Marcus Washington usually isn’t too hard to find on the football field.
His celebrations and physical play made the strongside linebacker of the Washington Redskins one of the most noticeable players in any game, and strong performances made Washington a Pro Bowl player in 2004 and the best defender on his team.
The Marcus Washington of this season is far less conspicuous: A series of injuries over the past three years has hampered his performance, and the coaches asked him to play a lesser role.
Washington made just one solo tackle in the Redskins’ season-opening loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night, his fewest for a full game during five seasons in Washington - and this on a night when middle linebacker London Fletcher made 12 solo stops and weakside backer Rocky McIntosh six.
With bookends Jason Taylor and Andre Carter both in the lineup, Washington no longer plays with his hand down on passing downs, greatly reducing his chances for sacks.
“Every game won’t go the way it did against the Giants,” linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “Marcus will give us whatever we need that week, like last week when he played on special teams [after linebacker Khary Campbell was a late scratch]. Marcus is a good football player who can do a lot of things. He hasn’t changed. He’s going to do things that make the defense work that sometimes aren’t always the flashy things.”
Washington, whose 19.5 sacks since he joined the Redskins are the most on the team, isn’t upset about his new, less-dynamic role - though winning would make it all easier to handle.
“It’s definitely fun getting to sack the quarterback, getting to come off that corner, and it’s just you and that offensive tackle,” he said. “Everybody wants to go to the Pro Bowl. Everybody wants the individual accolades. We’re only human. But it’s about the team winning. Individual goals have to be subordinate to team goals. If they want me to play defensive end on third down, I’ll play defensive end. If they want me to play linebacker, I’ll play linebacker. That’s just the way I’ve been taught since I was young.”
Washington, in his ninth season and nearly 31, no longer is young by NFL standards. He missed just one game during his first six seasons, but hip, hamstring and knee injuries kept him sidelined for six games over the past two years. He also hurt an elbow in August 2007 and reinjured the hip, though much less seriously, last month.
“I had two really good years when I first came here,” said Washington, who rested during team drills Monday but expects to start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. “But in this game, you’re going to face adversity, and you gotta be resilient. Football’s not a contact sport - it’s a collision sport, and being a linebacker sometimes you’re going to get a little nicked. The injuries I had weren’t like a broken finger or hand where you can tape it up and play through it. They were injuries I had to let rest before I could get back out there.”
That’s true, but the fact is that Washington made 215 tackles during his first two years with the Redskins but only 118 since.
“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,” Washington said. “I felt good the other night. I didn’t make any huge plays, but I played OK. I didn’t have any loafs. I missed maybe one assignment, one tackle. … You gotta take care of your responsibility and be consistent doing it.”
Washington consistently practices and plays with an enthusiasm that Fletcher said makes him wish he could be so carefree with his celebrations, dancing and trash-talking. Fletcher added that the Redskins don’t have another linebacker who physically compares to the 6-foot-3, 248-pound, athletically gifted Washington. But for how much longer?
“It’s a fun game, and you gotta play with energy and enthusiasm,” Washington said. “[But] sooner or later, [age] is going to catch up with you. As a competitor, you hate to admit that. You try to fight that off as long as you can. It’s hard to face that mortality.”