In his first season as the Redskins' starter at middle linebacker, Lemar Marshall was solid.
Marshall finished the 2005 season with 132 tackles and four interceptions, both team highs. He stepped in to a new position, replacing Antonio Pierce, and called the shots for Washington's defense with authority.
Here's the challenge for Marshall heading into 2006: The Redskins want even more productivity out of the position.
Linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said he expects Marshall to contribute more in 2006.
Said Lindsey: "He's a hard worker. And he's smart. That goes a long way in the NFL. But we expect him to be a lot better in 2006. I'm not pleased with him right now because I don't think he's risen to the next level."
Continued Lindsey: "I want him to rise to another level and I think he's quite capable of doing it. I think Lemar can be more productive tackle-wise. He had four interceptions last year. I think he can do a lot better."
Lindsey, entering his 29th year in the NFL, has a track record of getting the most out of his linebackers. This season it appears as though he's targeting Marshall in hopes of getting a greater response out of the middle linebacker.
The 6-2, 232-pound Marshall played safety at Michigan State and his spot in the NFL has been mostly at outside linebacker or as a special teams contributor.
He's responsible for calling out Gregg Williams' defensive schemes and for getting his teammates into their proper positions, a task that requires a great deal of responsibility.
Marshall met those demands in 2005 and perhaps in 2006 he'll be even more assertive in his second season in the middle of the Redskins' defense.
Said Williams: "The things that Lemar can do from an athletic middle linebacker position, is that his defensive back skills really help him in the passing game with breaks on the ball. It really helps him in the passing game on his instinct and his reflexes on very fast throws underneath."
In terms of tackles, his best game last year came in the 16-13 loss to Oakland on Week 9 at FedExField on Week 11. Marshall came up with a career-high 14 stops that day but also was the victim when Kerry Collins and Jerry Porter hooked up on a 49-yard TD. By all assessments, that was a difficult cover assignment.
Marshall's four interceptions in 2005 came against Chicago's Kyle Orton, Collins, the Giants' Eli Manning and Philly's Mike McMahon.
Following the scrimmage against the Ravens, Marshall said he believes the defense in on pace for another season in which it is capable of dominant performances.
"This is our third season under Gregg Williams, and we feel as though we can become a great defense," Marshall said. "In the early going, we've had some communications problems. That's because we have some new faces in the mix at certain positions. Communicating better is something we need to work on."
Marshall is vital in that respect from his middle linebacker spot. He's looking forward to making necessary corrections in the pre-season opener at Cincinnati on Sunday night at 8.
It's also a key game for Marshall because of the fact that he'll be playing in his hometown. As a senior at Cincinnati's St. Xavier High, he was an all-state performer.
What a better place in which to pick up his game and prepare for the Vikings and the 2006 regular season.
Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs has said: "One of the most important ingredients to last year's team was Lemar's play at middle linebacker. He studies extremely hard. It was a big step for him to go inside. His play was a big deal for us."