“I don’t think London Fletcher’s going to break his streak,” the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said. “I don’t foresee him missing a game, so I’m not even preparing without him.”
It’s uncertain whether Roethlisberger and the Steelers will have to contend with Fletcher on Sunday, as the veteran hasn’t practiced this week because of balance issues and a right hamstring injury. But at some point in the not-too-distant future, the Redskins will have to endure without Fletcher, 37, who hasn’t missed a game in his NFL career.
That transition from Fletcher to whoever’s next in line likely won’t be easy, but the Redskins believe they have a succession plan in place with a group of young linebackers led by Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson. Thanks in large part to Fletcher.
“One of the things he’s done is poured himself out into everybody: Perry Riley, Lorenzo Alexander, myself, Rob Jackson, Brian Orakpo, [Ryan] Kerrigan,” linebacker Chris Wilson said. “We really get a lot of coaching that really goes unseen and unheard from a players’ standpoint. As of right now, I definitely couldn’t see the defense without him because he’s been a Redskin since I’ve been a Redskin.
“I couldn’t because he’s always been there. But at the same time, I would be selling him short if I said we would fall apart without him because he’s poured himself out into everybody.”
Most of these players know nothing of this defense without Fletcher in the middle. The only defenders to predate his joining the team in 2007 are safety Reed Doughty and defensive lineman Kedric Golston.
Fletcher has missed occasional practices but otherwise started each of the 88 games, regular-season and playoffs, with the Redskins. So it’s not hard to realize why nose tackle Barry Cofield calls him “The Godfather.”
“He means everything,” Kerrigan said. “He’s the cornerstone, the heartbeat, whatever you want to call it. He’s that for us.”
Preparing for Fletcher’s eventual departure, via retirement or otherwise, could begin Sunday. But the front office and coaching staff have been strategizing the long-term plan at middle linebacker.
It began with Riley, a fourth-round pick in 2010, who replaced Rocky McIntosh as the starter at the other inside linebacker position midway through last season. The 24-year-old is shy off the field but swarms to the ball and moves well sideline to sideline even with Fletcher beside him.
“You definitely think that way. London is a great football player, a great tackler, great leader, everything,” Riley said. “And he’s out there all the time. You rarely see London not out there. When he’s not out there, it’s kind of, ‘OK, I’ve got to make more plays.”’
Fletcher has one more year left on his contract after this season, which could put Robinson on a course to step right in. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett called him a “great prospect for this organization.”