- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jim Zorn spent most of his Monday news conference discussing the latest injuries, dancing around questions about the playcalling setup and admitting how “awful” it feels that the Washington Redskins are 3-8.

Only when asked about linebacker London Fletcher did the coach perk up and flash a grin.

That’s the kind of impact No. 59’s play has made this season - particularly against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fletcher, the NFL’s top tackler this decade, ranks third in the league this year with 102 stops, including 12 against the Eagles on Sunday.

“Super impressive,” Zorn said. “The guy” - he then paused to grin - “I watched him today [on video]; I watched him close. He’s a warrior - that’s all I can tell you. He gives you everything he’s got.”

As he watched teammates miss games because of injury, Fletcher remained a constant, playing all but 11 of the Redskins’ 697 defensive snaps this year, going sideline-to-sideline throughout and staying involved in every aspect of the defense, from directing presnap traffic to delivering thumping hits.

Linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti grades Fletcher in three areas: Does he get the defense lined up properly after getting the call from Greg Blache? Does he line himself up properly? Does he make the play?

A player must score 93 or above to get an “A” for the game. Fletcher is an “A” player.

“He grades out very high because he has very little negative production,” Olivadotti said.

A review of Fletcher’s 72 snaps against the Eagles confirmed he makes few physical mistakes. For a sixth consecutive game, he never left the field and appeared to make only three miscues. He missed a tackle on Leonard Weaver, got turned around by receiver Jason Avant in coverage and overpursued on a run play.

That’s it.

The good plays outweighed the rare negative, even if Fletcher didn’t make the tackle.

He took up two blockers when he blitzed up the middle.

He posted four tackles in the first 13 plays and nine in the first 34.

And he delivered a crunching hit that knocked receiver DeSean Jackson out of the game.

Fletcher’s job has become more difficult without defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth taking up space and blockers in the middle of the field.

The prowess of Philadelphia’s passing game led the Redskins to play more than four defensive backs 62.5 percent of the time. Instead of presenting a seven-man run front, the Redskins used six players. The Eagles took advantage with 123 rushing yards and 11 rushes of at least 5 yards.

“We mix up enough that teams try to account for London in a lot of cases, but we play around him to help him make plays,” Olivadotti said. “It’s one thing to try and help a guy make a play because he can’t make one. We do it because he’s a guy we want in position to make plays, and he makes them consistently.”

Philadelphia center Jamaal Jackson, who tried all day to tie up Fletcher, agreed.

Leaving the field, Jackson said he told Fletcher: “You’ve got my Pro Bowl vote.”

Only a grass-roots effort - maybe teammates could text every friend they have in the league asking for a vote - will get Fletcher to South Florida. Without a spirited marketing push, fan voting also appears out of reach; with just 20 days left, Fletcher is not among the top five NFC vote-getters at inside linebacker.

What has hurt Fletcher’s candidacy through the years is that he has played in only eight playoff games (winning teams have more representatives) and spent his first nine years playing in St. Louis (the “Greatest Show On Turf” moniker didn’t refer to the Rams’ defense) and Buffalo (hardly any prime-time exposure).

Fletcher is also playing in the wrong decade to generate All-Pro recognition.

Since he became a starter in 1999, he has watched Ray Lewis (five times) and Brian Urlacher and Zach Thomas (four times each) dominate the two All-Pro inside linebacker positions.

Other players who have been named first-team All-Pro are Jon Beason, Lofa Tatupu, Al Wilson, James Farrior and Jeremiah Trotter. The Redskins wouldn’t trade Fletcher for any of them.

“If you just watch and enjoy football and watch London Fletcher play, you’ll realize how good he is,” safety Reed Doughty said. “Not only does he make tackles in the open field, he puts hits on people and he’s good in the passing game. He’s outstanding. The fact he hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl just shocks me.”

Said Zorn: “He tries to make every tackle, and he makes most of them. He’s quite a player. He’s quite an inspiration. … He could have been a Pro Bowl player in past years. He keeps rising up and playing with the intensity and the skill of a real pro. He loves to hit. He loves to compete. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

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