A month ago, the consensus was that middle linebacker would be among the key position battles to watch during training camp.
Heading into the final preseason game, the Redskins appear to have settled on Lemar Marshall as the primary middle linebacker. While assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams will shift Marcus Washington and Warrick Holdman into the middle on occasion, Marshall appears to have a hold on the position.
"I never really looked at it as a competition with other players," said Marshall, who conducts himself with a quiet intensity. "I looked at it as a competition with myself. Being a starter last year and knowing the ins and outs of this defense, I just figured that all I have to do is apply myself."
With the release of Mike Barrow in late July, Marshall was designated the starting middle linebacker in training camp.
In his first game in the middle, the Aug. 13 preseason contest at Carolina, Marshall said he was a little too wound up. The result? The Panthers scored a touchdown on their first possession.
Since then, Marshall has been part of a first-team defense that has yielded just three points in the last two preseason games.
"After the first preseason game, I just had to take a deep breath and relax," he said. "In the second preseason game, I felt more comfortable. Then last Friday against Pittsburgh, I felt more comfortable. I'm just focusing on doing what the coaches tell me to do and putting it on my shoulders to go out there and execute.
"If you do that, then everybody else will just jell together."
In Williams' scheme, the middle linebacker is regarded as the quarterback of the defense. That means it'll be Marshall's responsibility to make sure everybody on the defensive front seven is on the same page with the play call.
"You know your job and your responsibilities, but you never want to see someone who says, 'What do I do?' at the line of scrimmage," Marshall said. "It's your responsibility to get everyone on the same page. You want everyone to be out there performing to the best of their abilities."
Marshall, a 6-2, 232-pounder out of Michigan State, came into his own last season. He bounced around several NFL teams from 1999-2001 before landing in Washington as a reserve in 2002.
Marshall was forced into the lineup last season as a replacement for ailing linebacker LaVar Arrington. In 14 starts, he logged 82 tackles (52 solo), with 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
This year, Marshall is replacing Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. Pierce left the Redskins via free agency, signing with the New York Giants.
Williams has become a fan of Marshall in a short time.
"Lemar has the quickest strengths and learning curve to know exactly how we want things done," Williams said. "We want those linebackers that can play more than one position. We're trying to be as flexible as possible and get the right guys in the right spots to cause confusion to the opponent's offense."