THE WASHINGTON TIMES With the Washington Redskins' history of playing their top draft choices fairly soon and only retread Warrick Holdman ahead of him at weakside linebacker, Rocky McIntosh figured to see plenty of action as a rookie last season.
That didn't happen. Asked every week last season when the second-round pick would play, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams danced around the subject.
"It was pretty hard not playing," said McIntosh, a three-year starter at Miami. "I was down a little bit, but I gave it my best shot on special teams. The first time we played Philadelphia [rookie linebacker Omar Gaither] blew right past me, and he was making plays. The second time we played them, I kind of snuck up on him and got him real good."
McIntosh remained a virtual nonentity except on special teams — he was third on the team in special teams tackles — until an injury to strongside starter Marcus Washington forced him into the lineup the for the final two games. McIntosh was credited with 17 tackles in those two games, but the defense was deeply gashed.
"I blew a couple of plays, but it gave me confidence that I could play against top-level competition," McIntosh said.
Fast forward six months and Williams is gushing about McIntosh, who's ahead of Lemar Marshall, a regular the past three seasons, in the battle for the starting job created by Holdman's departure for Denver.
"Rocky had a phenomenal camp," Williams said. "There's an acclimation phase with any young guy coming into the league. At the linebacker position sometimes that can be overwhelming. The things ... that Rocky had hesitancy with last year, such as the coverage elements, he has more than made up for with his understanding of the game. His speed and anticipation of the opponent"s offensive concepts have been outstanding. I hope that this will transition into that second year blossoming. I think Rocky's going to make some big plays this year."
The Redskins certainly didn't get many big plays from their defense in 2006 as it crashed from the top 10 in 2004 and 2005 to the NFL's second worst. Washington forced just 12 turnovers, the fewest by a team in a 16-game season. Its linebackers didn't intercept a pass, forced and recovered just three fumbles and had just five sacks.
But McIntosh's improvement should help those totals. As veteran linebacker Khary Campbell said, McIntosh is a totally different player from the nervous rookie of 2006.
"Last year in training camp, Rocky was jittery, looking where to go with a lot of wasted movement," Campbell said. "Now he's doing everything so much quicker. He knows what he's doing. He's looking a lot better."
McIntosh believes his intensity eventually will make him a worthy colleague for athletic middle man London Fletcher, who had 146 tackles last year with Buffalo.
"I'm not there yet," said the 6-foot-2, 227-pound McIntosh, who's focusing on improving his communications skills on the field. "I'm always learning from these older guys. I'm definitely more comfortable than I was last year, and they make it more comfortable for me. I don't have to think about everything I'm doing anymore. I can just relax and play and take it to the next level. I don't know about it being my job to lose. I always believe the best three guys are going to play, and I'm just trying to be one of those guys."
If the Redskins had pulled off the trade they discussed with the Chicago Bears for Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, McIntosh wouldn't have been one of those guys. In fact, he might have wound up with the Bears. In his typical laid-back fashion, the 24-year-old Gaffney, S.C., native said he didn't get worked up about those trade talks.
"I really didn't care to tell you the truth," McIntosh said. "If they wanted me to be here, then I would. If they wanted me to be somewhere else, then I would be there."
Linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti is glad McIntosh is here.
"Rocky enjoys to play," Olivadotti said. "All he wants to do is work."
Note — Redskins offensive lineman Ross Tucker is one of 20 current and former players participating in the league's first Broadcast Boot Camp, which runs through Thursday at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J. The players are working in a wide range of broadcast areas, including studio and game analysis, tape study and production meetings with current broadcasters like James Brown of CBS.