You could see the emotion and passion during games, some games more than others. You don’t make it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent from John Carroll University without having something different inside, be it passion or fire. And it would reveal itself during games.
But when I look back on Fletcher’s career, it’ll be the times watching him in practice that will stand out. It provides a glimpse into the window of a possible Hall of Fame career.
Several years ago, the Redskins’ defense was facing the No. 1 offense in a two-minute drill. The offense moved down the field and was inside the 10-yard line. Fletcher then shouted at his teammates, “Let’s go!” to make a stop. When you saw the intensity, it was hard to imagine this was just a practice. It did not seem that way to Fletcher.
It’s a scene I saw repeated quite often in the ensuing years, including in Richmond this summer. Fletcher was all business on the field, and he treated every situation like a contest he wanted to win. Not everyone was the same way, but Fletcher was the leader on the field and treated that responsibility with respect.
He was not a perfect player, and for each of the past three seasons you wondered if the end had begun. Two years ago, he started slow for the first few games, recovered and finished strong. Last year, he played an inconsistent first half of the season and then badly sprained his ankle. Then, in the last six games, he intercepted four passes, recorded two sacks (both in the regular-season finale) and recorded three double-digit tackle games. It was a strong finish.
Fletcher did not play at that level this season. Age grabbed hold of him early and never quite relinquished its grip. It happens to everyone. He hasn't made the bone-jarring stops or made the big plays that he has in the past. He was still the most respected voice in the defensive room; players listened to him probably more than anyone. It's hard to imagine the Redskins having had a better leader in recent years, someone who could reach players on both sides of the ball.
Fletcher could be hard to figure at times, one day talking and jovial, and the next ... not so much. But when players accomplish what he does, you figure that’s just part of the package.
Like others, when he arrived I knew a lot about him but did not have a deep appreciation for what he already had done. But watching him play, and practice, and talking to coaches and players about him certainly provided that appreciation.
Fletcher wanted to leave a legacy in Washington. He did.
“You’ve got to come to work every day ready to go,” Redskins Robert Griffin III said of what he learned from Fletcher, “whether it’s showing up early, being the last guy to leave. He’s more reserved, rough-on-the-edges, focused guy that comes to work every day no matter what’s going on. He comes in this building and shuts everything down and focuses on football.”