Marcus Washington, in his first year as a Redskin, has had to step up quickly to become a leader on defense this season.
With LaVar Arrington and Mike Barrow out of the lineup due to injuries, Washington is one of the team's motivators on and off the field. His work ethic and exuberance for the game has caught on--Washington says he thrives on the emotion of the game--and he is constantly shouting out words of encouragement to teammates.
After going to the postseason with the Indianapolis Colts the last two seasons, Washington knows what it takes for a team to come together. He says the Redskins are struggling to find their identity as a team in the early going.
"This is when you find out what kind of team you have--when things aren't going so well," Washington said. "It's easy to smile, work hard and get all fired up when you're winning, but when you're faced with adversity, that's when the team grows together."
The Colts had to overcome a perception that they couldn't win a postseason game last year. They shattered that notion last year, winning twice before falling one game short of the Super Bowl in a loss to New England in the AFC Championship game. Washington logged 16 tackles last postseason.
He faces a different challenge as a Redskin this year. The Redskins are already three games behind in the NFC East, the offense is struggling with turnovers and consistency, and the defense is missing several players, including injured Arrington, Barrow and Phillip Daniels.
"We're being tested," Washington said. "We're working hard and nobody's quitting out there. Everybody's staying together. I think that's important. We just have to keep on sawing wood and the tree is eventually going to fall sooner or later."
So far this season, Washington is second on the Redskins' defense with 31 tackles (23 solo). He has had two tackles for a loss.
Washington knows about overcoming adversity and self-doubt. At Auburn University, he played defensive end, but NFL scouts considered him a better fit at linebacker. Because of the expected transition, teams shied away from him in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Washington was selected in the second round (59th overall) by Indianapolis and after serving as a backup linebacker for one season, he emerged as a solid NFL player in 2001. The Redskins considered him a young, ascending player and signed him as a free agent last offseason.
In Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Redskins' defense had its share of errors. The scheme implemented by assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams calls for aggressiveness, but there were times against Cleveland when the defense may have been overly aggressive.
Linebacker Antonio Pierce and safety Matt Bowen were each called for roughing the quarterback infractions. Both were on drives that led to points for Cleveland.
Are the players on defense pressing too much to make a play?
"I don't think so," Washington said. "I just think we have some intense competitors around here. We have to play smarter football, but we're not going to let people push us around, whether it's at somebody else's house or at our house. Those are the type of guys I want to play ball with."