At Michigan State, Lemar Marshall got accustomed to making play calls and defensive adjustments coming out of the huddle from his safety position. This offseason, Marshall is relying on that experience as he learns the intricacies of the middle linebacker's role.
Marshall, an outside linebacker during his three seasons with the Redskins, may compete for playing time in the middle this season. The off-season departure of Antonio Pierce, last year's starter, and the uncertainty regarding Mike Barrow's knee injury may offer Marshall and several other young Redskins an opportunity to contribute in the middle.
The middle linebacker position in assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams' scheme has more playcalling responsibilities than Marshall did as a safety in college, but Marshall's foundation making reads and calls may help ease his transition
"I used to be a safety and I had to make a lot of calls on defense and getting everybody situated in the defensive backfield," Marshall said. "But it's different because at middle linebacker you have to be aware of everybody else, including DBs and the D-line. That's the only difference. You have more people you have to communicate with."
Marshall had his best NFL season in 2004, starting 14 games in place of the injured LaVar Arrington. His 82 tackles and 1.5 sacks were easily career highs. He was a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Redskins re-signed him in February.
"Lemar's much more confident," head coach Joe Gibbs said this offseason. "He's really assuming a commanding role. Initially, he started filling in and wound up being one of our key guys. We think he gives us flexibility. He can play outside or inside."
Because injuries plagued the Redskins' linebacker corps last season, Marshall learned the outside and middle linebacker roles so he could play either depending on what the team needed. He would occasionally play middle linebacker at practice last season when Pierce needed a breather.
"I knew the outside position more than I knew the middle, but I did know enough that if I had to jump into it, I could," Marshall said. "Right now, it's full throttle. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can."
Williams said that he values versatile players, such as Marshall, who can contribute at different positions. Marshall also played special teams last season.
"We want our linebackers--outside of Marcus Washington and LaVar Arrington--to be able to play all the positions" Williams said. "It just makes us better when the next best athlete can fit into the spot we need."
Marshall, a 6-2, 227-pounder, is hoping to put on a few more pounds of muscle before the season in order to help withstand the punishment a middle linebacker takes. He will also continue to build on the strong foundation he has regarding the mental aspect of the position.
Said Marshall: "I'm comfortable being the quarterback of the defense and calling plays."
In addition to Marshall and Barrow, other veterans who may be in the mix for the Redskins at middle linebacker are: Khary Campbell, the fourth-year player who is battling back from a knee injury; fifth-year player Brian Allen, obtained recently from Carolina; and Brandon Barnes, a second-year player out of Missouri.
The Redskins drafted Louisville's Robert McCune in the fifth round and Stanford's Jared Newberry in the sixth. Princeton's Zak Keasey, an undrafted free agent, had a strong showing in the Redskins' rookie camp.