Lemar Marshall played side-by-side with Antonio Pierce last season and, although Marshall didn't know it at the time, he was soaking in all of Pierce's knowledge of the Redskins' defense and learning the defensive calls.
That's made Marshall's transition to middle linebacker--Pierce's old spot--that much easier.
Entering this season, head coach Joe Gibbs admitted there was some uncertainty about the middle linebacker position. Along with Marshall, Warrick Holdman and Clifton Smith were competing for the starting job.
Holdman settled in at weak-side linebacker when LaVar Arrington was slowed by a lingering knee injury and Smith was eventually released. Marshall entered training camp as the expected starter at middle linebacker--and that's how he ended training camp.
"When we entered this year, we had a lot of scenarios for middle linebacker," Gibbs said. "It wound up being Lemar. One of the most important ingredients to this year is Lemar's play at middle linebacker. He's very conscientious and he studies extremely hard. It was a big step for him to go from starting outside to starting inside. His play has been a big deal for us."
Heading into this Sunday's game against the New York Giants, Marshall leads the Redskins' defense in tackles with 48 (37 solo) and has two sacks and one interception.
This Sunday's game will be a reunion of sorts for Marshall and Pierce, who now starts in the middle for the Giants. Both were valuable backups on the Redskins' defense in the 2002-03 seasons before finally getting a shot at starting jobs due to injuries last year.
They both excelled in Gregg Williams' aggressive schemes. Pierce responded by recording 160 tackles (139 solo), two interceptions and one sack. Marshall logged 82 tackles (52 solo) and 1.5 sacks
In making the transition to middle linebacker, Marshall has had to become a more vocal presence in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. That's an adjustment that has taken time.
"He's starting to become more vocal," said Marcus Washington, who now plays along-side Marshall. "He's been a leader for us and he's producing on the field. Lemar has done a great job stepping in."
Added defensive end Renaldo Wynn: "Lemar has stepped in, taken the defense by the reigns and has done an excellent job. For him to come and provide the leadership that we need, make the plays, make the calls and get everybody in position, it's been huge for us."
Marshall appears to take it all in stride.
"There are a couple of things I could do better, but overall, it's football," he said. "You just go out there, have fun and make sure everybody is on the same page. Sometimes that's probably the most difficult thing, for guys to be on the same page. You have to make sure everybody is in the best position to make the plays."
His teammates have responded. Through seven weeks of the NFL season, the Redskins' defense is ranked fourth in the NFL.
"We have a lot of pride," Marshall said. "We want to be better than we were last year. Right now we're doing a pretty good job of it. There were a couple of big plays that we've given up, but overall we're doing a pretty good job. That's what we're going to continue to try to do."