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Nick Barnett Helps London Fletcher Catch His Breath

One veteran inside linebacker replaced another in the loss to the Lions on Sunday with the goal of helping both players be more productive on the field throughout the season.

BY ZAC BOYER

ASHBURN – One of the pitches the Redskins made to Nick Barnett before he signed with the team early in training camp appealed to his competitive instincts.

Barnett

With a 15-year veteran entrenched at one inside linebacker position, and the other occupied by a player who has only gotten better over the last three seasons, Barnett wasn’t likely to be able to keep alive his streak of starting every game he’s ever played.

What he could do, however, was play a utility role on defense: A few snaps a game, depending on the situation, meant to give the inside linebackers a break.

Between the likelihood of playing time, and the familiarity within a similar defensive scheme, Barnett accepted the Redskins’ offer. And steadily, though incrementally, he’s getting on the field.

“Granted, you would like to get a little bit more [playing time] to have more of the rhythm, and be able to prepare for every type of drive and every type of series in practice,” Barnett said Thursday. “The biggest thing for me is to stay loose and be ready to go in and be comfortable and play.”

Barnett hasn’t played any significant snaps in the Redskins’ first three weeks of the season; he took just eight in the loss to the Lions on Sunday. It was a step up from the opener against the Eagles, when he did not play, and from his return home to Green Bay last week, where he played only on special teams in a loss to the Packers.

It’s also not a changing of the guard from 38-year-old London Fletcher, who is entering his seventh season with the Redskins; Barnett, 32, is entering his 11th season after eight with the Packers and the last two with the Bills.

It does represent a moderate change in philosophy, though: Fletcher, who has only missed snaps over the last two seasons because of injury, has willingly conceded time to Barnett.

“If he can’t go 100 miles an hour and he’s tired or whatever, then he’s got to come out – or he should come out,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said.

Barnett entered Sunday’s game for the first four plays of the Lions’ third series, then returned for four plays during the second series of the second half and made two tackles.

Fletcher, who made only two tackles against the Packers, began the game Sunday by sacking Matthew Stafford for a seven-yard loss and finished with eight tackles. Only fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley who had 10 tackles, had more.

“He said it helped him a lot,” Riley said. “He kept his legs fresh. It helped him get a breather and come back the next series. You know, he said it helped him a lot. They’ll probably do something like that again this week.”

In the final year of his contract, Fletcher has started to break down because of injury the past two seasons. He was bothered by a high left ankle sprain for much of last year and underwent surgery to correct that, and a nagging elbow injury, during the offseason.

Taking eight plays a game off won’t give Fletcher more than a few minutes to catch his breath, but it can add up over the course of a season.

“I think he noticed a difference,” Barnett said. “I think he felt pressure when he got in and was ready to go. I think he felt fresher and was running around a lot more. That, you know – I don’t know if it’s a direct correlation to him getting those reps off, but I think it helped.”

A version of this story appears in Friday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.

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