Redskins GM Scot McCloughan made a name for himself finding players that other scouts and personnel men passed over. Stops in Seattle and San Francisco proved McCloughan's ability to find talented players late in the draft, or even after the draft as rookie free agents.
While it's certainly too early to proclaim Houston Bates another McCloughan success, the undrafted rookie linebacker out of Louisiana Tech has made quite an impression. In two preseason games, Bates has logged three sacks, and in Thursday night's preseason game against the Lions, Bates entered the game in the first half with many Redskin starters still on the field.
"I don't try to read into the timing when I go into the game," Bates said Saturday on a call with reporters. "I have to be ready at all times."
With the departure of Brian Orakpo, a position is open on the Redskins linebacking group. Second year man Trent Murphy or rookie Preston Smith looked to be fighting for 'Rak's old spot early in training camp, but the addition of Junior Galette could change that. Regardless, Bates could provide good depth at OLB as his ability to pressure quarterbacks in the preseason gives him a chance to impress coaches. But beyond rushing the QB, Bates knows the key to a roster spot will be special teams.
"I know the importance of special teams in the NFL," Bates said. "A guy like me being an undrafted free agent, that's going to be key."
Injuries to Adam Hayward, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul mean that there are opportunities on the Redskins special teams, and Bates knows he needs to take advantage.
"I'm just glad the Washington Redskins gave me a chance to show my talent," Bates said.
Typically a player from a smaller school like Louisiana Tech would have a tough time adjusting to the NFL, but Bates is not a typical small school player. He started his career in the Big Ten at Illinois before transferring back to his home state of Louisiana. Throughout college, Bates played D-end and showed an ability to sack the QB. In his final collegiate game, Bates registered 4.5 sacks in a bowl win over Illinois, a serendipitous moment if there ever was one.
To play in the Redskins 3-4 scheme, Bates will likely need to switch to outside linebacker as he doesn't have the size to play the defensive end role in that system.
"I've learned a lot," he said. "The speed of the game is a lot different."
Despite the position change, Bates said the transition is going relatively smooth.
"It's pretty much the same technique, just at a higher speed," Bates said. When the season ended at Louisiana Tech, Bates said, "pretty much all I did was train for NFL linebacker."
A self-described "tweener," Bates may have a low profile after being undrafted out of Louisiana Tech. Fans should be careful to expect too little from Bates though, as he was an All Big Ten honorable mention player in 2013 and has shown an ability to pressure QBs throughout his career, a skill every NFL team values.
"At the end of the day it's football," Bates said of trying to change positions.
The Redskins invested heavily in their defensive line this offseason, though the linebacking group did not see a tremendous influx of talent outside of the drafting of Smith. Bates said he will be ready for his chance, per the instruction of defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
"Barry says everybody is a starter in waiting," Bates explained. "I'll play linebacker or defensive end, whatever they need me to do."