An average football play lasts just a few seconds, and success or failure gets determined by a series of flashes, where players fly around the field like violent chess pieces. One of those flashes came Monday, when, during 11v11 drills, undrafted rookie linebacker Nico Marley crashed down to the line of scrimmage, exploded into an offensive lineman, and thwarted a run play.
It was the kind of collision that happens thoughout the NFL, throughout training camps, but rarely by somebody with Marley's size.
Zach Brown, Will Compton and Mason Foster all seem like locks for the Redskins roster at the linebacker spot. Brown and Foster weight 250, Compton weighs around 235. All three stand 6-foot-1. Marley stands 5-foot-8. He weighs 200 pounds.
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Yet, he keeps making plays in Richmond during Redskins training camp. Just like he did during minicamp, and OTAs, and rookie camp. Just like he did in college.
Jay Gruden has noticed.
"You watch him at Tulane, he made almost every tackle. Then we brought him in here, said, ‘Let’s just bring this guy in for a workout for the rookie OTAs.’ Then at the rookie OTAs, he made almost every tackle and had two interceptions and a forced fumble," the Redskins head coach said of Marley. "I said if anybody deserves a chance to crack the roster, it’s somebody who’s that productive. So we brought him in here and he really hasn’t disappointed us, man."
It's not just coach speak. Perhaps it's more noticeable because of his size, or in spite of his size, or the fact that his grandfather is musical icon Bob Marley.
Whatever it is, Marley is only focused on the next play.
"We still have four preseason games. I'm not getting ahead of myself. I'm focusing down on just today," he said. "When today's done, I'm going to watch the film, put today to rest and focus on tomorrow. Day by day."
It's the right attitude, as Marley still seems an outsider on the roster bubble. Veteran linebacker Chris Carter has also looked good in camp, and seems the type to fill the special teams role vacated by Terence Garvin.
Still, don't count Marley out.
"He’s been running around here, making good plays and he’s very smart. We will see what happens when we get to live tackling, but he’s a fun guy to watch," Gruden said.
As for tackling, Marley said that's his strength. The stats at Tulane would support it. As a senior last season, he made 86 tackles, with 13 for loss to go with three sacks and an interception. His numbers his junior season look nearly identical.
"That's everything," Marley said of tackling. "You've got to get the man with the ball down. If you don't get him down, then you don't have any defense. You can have the best defense in the world and if guys are not tackling (you have nothing)."
In 2016, the Washington defense struggled with missed tackles. Many of the worst offenders are gone now, guys like Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton, though there will always be room for improvement.
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Marley has much to do before he will be one of the guys that helps the Redskins defense. He will have a chance in the preseason to impress coaches, but a spot on the 53-man roster remains far away. He knows it, but won't let that slow him down.
"Football. That's what I'm here for. I came to play football. I came here to play football, so that's what I'm going to do every play."
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