SNYDER: Veterans’ loyalty finally rewarded

They’ve been around about as long as anyone in the Redskins’ locker room, just one reason they’re team captains. Their routes to the NFL were as disparate as possible, a first-round pick from a big-time powerhouse and an undrafted free agent from Division III. They’re so accustomed to leading Washington in receiving yardage and tackles, respectively, they probably do a double-take when others top those lists.

But in terms of knowing this team’s capability, filling crucial needs and showing youngsters the way, no two players are better-equipped than wideout Santana Moss and linebacker London Fletcher. And while comparing either one to Bob Arum is outrageous, it’s fair say that the past four seasons they feigned confidence but this year they feel it for real.

Moss, an 11-year veteran out of Miami, has led Washington in receiving yardage the past six seasons, every year since being traded from the New York Jets. Tight end Chris Cooley and fullback Mike Sellers are the only offensive players who predate Moss‘ tenure, each arriving a year earlier, in 2004. With both experiencing reduced roles this year - Cooley due to injury and Sellers due to Darrel Young’s emergence - Moss is representing well for the oldheads.

His 18-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-3 was the key play in Sunday’s victory against Arizona, and he added a 12-yard reception on the game-winning drive. For the season, he’s tied for the team lead in receptions (11) and he’s second in yardage (137), trailing tight end Fred Davis in both categories. The fact that Moss has been a mentor to Davis, a fourth-year player, in addition to second-year wideout Anthony Armstrong, makes him equally valuable off the field.

He could have gone elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, relocated to a team that’s closer to winning than the Redskins appear. But after one year in Mike/Kyle Shanahan’s system, Moss concluded that Washington isn’t as far away as others perceive.

“I love this offense,” Moss said Sunday in the postgame locker room. “That’s why I wasn’t trying to go anywhere. I’ve waited this long to be a part of something like this. I’ve never been a guy that’s all about me. I’ve been a guy wanting to be productive and something that can be to the level of where we are now.”

He waited through Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn in the coach’s office, through Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell under center. Now, the Shanahans’ installment last season and Rex Grossman’s promotion this season have made Moss a true believer in the Redskins.

The same can be said of Fletcher, the 14-year pro out of John Carroll University. The only teammates on defense who were here when he arrived in 2007 are Reed Doughty, Kedric Golston and Rocky McIntosh. Doughty leads the team with 17 tackles, but don’t bet on anyone finishing ahead of Fletcher. He has been his team’s top tackler, including stints with St. Louis and Buffalo, every year except 1998, his rookie season.

The addition of 2011 first-rounder Ryan Kerrigan, and the continued development of 2009 first-rounder Brian Orakpo, help keep Fletcher spry. The bookend linebackers also have accelerated Washington’s transition to a 3-4 defense, which so far has gone much better than last year, when the unit ranked 31st out of 32 teams.

After the Redskins’ season-opening victory, Fletcher conceded that some of the Giants’ plays would have been big gainers a year ago. He also shared his belief that this is a special Redskins team and 2011 is a special season. Sunday brought more evidence that he might have a point, as he recorded his 17th career interception and helped stymie Arizona with a three-and-out, which set up Graham Gano’s winning field goal.

Fletcher said “there was no panic on our sidelines,” even after the Cardinals went ahead on a 73-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. The faith that Fletcher infuses in his younger teammates exudes from them.

“Did you see us dancing out there today?” Orakpo said Sunday. “We don’t care what the circumstances are. We’re going to go out there and have fun. You could put it on the 1-yard line after we’ve turned it over, we’re going to go out there and fight and get off the field. So whatever adversity we face, we’ll meet it with a lot of confidence.”

Fletcher and Moss have been here a long time, have seen a lot and heard a lot.

But they really like what they see and hear from the 2011 Redskins.

No kidding this time.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’ 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @Its_Ball_Good or email him at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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