Marcus Washington left some important things behind when he decided to leave the Indianapolis Colts last March and sign with the Redskins. The three-year starter parted with his house, of course, and had to say goodbye to many friends and acquaintances.
Washington also departed a Super Bowl contender--the Colts fell one game shy of last year's Super Bowl after losing to New England in the AFC Championship game
Despite the fond memories of his four years in Indianapolis, Washington now has designs on helping the Redskins become the type of playoff-caliber team he left behind.
"It's going to be a change for the best," Washington said. "We've got coach [Joe] Gibbs, and we've got a lot of talent on offense and defense. I think I made a great choice in coming to the Redskins."
Washington, a 6-3, 247-pounder linebacker, makes up one-third of the Redskins' revamped starting linebacker corps. The team released starters Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter this offseason.
In 2004, Washington is expected to team with LaVar Arrington and free agent Mike Barrow to form a veteran linebacker trio. Washington said he expects to play mostly strong-side linebacker, with Barrow in the middle and Arrington at weak-side linebacker.
"I think we have a pretty good group of linebackers," Washington said. "Mike is a guy who has been around for a while. Sometimes he sees things that he can point out to you. Sometimes he gets a quick read on a run or a pass. And LaVar is a guy who plays with a lot of emotion. He's a heck of an athlete. I'm excited to start playing with those guys."
When asked if the trio could evolve into one of the top linebacker groups in the league, Washington wouldn't shy away from the possibility.
"I think we definitely have the potential," he said. "But potential isn't a whole lot until you go out and do it. I definitely think we've got a group capable of that."
With the addition of Washington, the Redskins' linebackers should be a pass-rushing force. Like Arrington, Washington has a penchant for rushing the passer. In 2003, he led Colts linebackers and finished second on the team with six sacks.
Pressuring quarterbacks is his favorite part of playing defense.
"When you get to pin your ears back and go get 'em, that's exciting," he said, smiling. "I think every linebacker loves that."
Washington's ability to rush the passer also appealed to assistant coach/defense Gregg Williams during free agency. Williams' defenses have had a reputation for being aggressive, so Washington appears to be a great fit for the Redskins' new scheme.
Said Williams: "We think we can get some good rushes out of him. We think that he can be a really versatile football player that offenses have a tough time predicting what he's going to do."
Washington may have the opportunity to rush the passer more with the Redskins than he did in Indianapolis. He said that the Colts' defense schemed to rely more on pass coverage than pass rush.
"In this defense, I may get to blitz a little more," he said. "In Indy, we played a lot of 'Cover 2.' It helped me with my pass-covering abilities, but here they may turn me loose every now and then. I like that."
Fellow linebacker Arrington also recorded six sacks last season. Both could find themselves meeting in the opposing backfield on occasion next season, Williams said.
"You won't see LaVar and Marcus both off the field at the same time," Williams said. "They'll be on the field as much as possible and teams are going to have to try and predict where they're playing."
The goal, Williams said, is to always keep offenses guessing.
Said Washington: "When the offense doesn't know who is coming to rush the passer, you can surprise them. That can be a great tool."
Added Arrington: "With Marcus Washington, that allows them to do a lot with me. He's a talent who's a force to be reckoned with on the field. He's not somebody who you can say, 'We're going to run right at him.'"
Washington grew up in Auburn, Ala., went to Auburn High School and played his college ball at Auburn. He was a two-year starter in college and finished his senior season with a team-high seven sacks.
He was selected by the Colts in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft, the same draft class as Arrington, and learned from veteran linebacker Cornelius Bennett during his rookie year.
Last season, Washington's 97 tackles (56 solo) ranked fourth on the Colts' defense as Indianapolis won the AFC South. He played in three postseasons during his four years in Indianapolis and believes that his playoff experience will benefit him as the Redskins seek to return to playoff contention this year.
"I like to talk, but I prefer to lead by example," he said. "It's easy to talk, but football is about giving effort--going from the snap until the whistle blows, bringing your hard hat and your lunch pail every day and coming to work.
"I'm a guy who plays with a lot of effort," he said. "You go from the snap until the whistle blows because you never know what's going to happen."
As the Redskins' offseason progresses, Washington continues to settle into his role with his new team. With training camp on the horizon, he's keeping his focus on the future.
"I'm so excited about the season," he said. "Just watching guys in practice, I can't wait to get started."