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'One Man Gang' gets his due: Redskins special teams maven Alexander making plays on defense

Lorenzo Alexander is a familiar name around the NFL, especially among those who follow special teams. He's been a relentless force on coverage units for years, and the Washington Redskins currently list him at the league leader in the unofficial stat of solo special teams tackles.

He's also a team captain and one of the locker room's unofficial spokesmen. Last year he won the Redskins' Good Guy Award for his genial cooperation with the media and was also Washington's nominee last year for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his off-the-field work.

This week, for a change, Alexander is getting noticed for making some big plays on defense.

He plucked a fumble out of the air deep in opposition territory and had 1½ sacks and four quarterback hurries in the Redskins' 38-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. He had an impact even though he was on the field for just 27 defensive plays — about one-third of the total. He received a game ball from coach Mike Shanahan and, for the first time in his six-year career, was given a spot at the podium for his own news conference following the game.

"He's a guy that gives everything," Shanahan said. "And we're going to have to play him some more, obviously."

When two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in Week 2, Shanahan said Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson would rotate at the outside spot with the expectation that one or the other would emerge as the new starter.

Four weeks later, the position is still very fluid. Jackson played exactly half of the 84 defensive snaps against the Vikings. Wilson was on the field for just two, fewer than both Alexander and recent midseason signing Mario Addison (11).

Alexander, whose been called the "One Man Gang" and the "Swiss Army Knife," played both offensive line and defensive line earlier in his career and lost some 30 pounds this offseason to help his coverage skills as a backup inside linebacker.

Instead, with Orakpo gone, he's finding a niche on the edge.

"I think we might have struck gold with where we've got him playing right now, in that kind of rush-linebacker position," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "It's almost like he's running down, busting through a wedge, when he's breaking through that line of scrimmage. To me it seems like a natural fit. As soon as we put in him there, it seems like he's flourished in that role, so I think we can expect big things from him in that spot."

Alexander was typically humble about his big game, saying he was being opportunistic and "in the right place at the right time," but he acknowledged the recognition was a nice change of pace from the often-ignored work he does on special teams.

"It's a cool feeling, a cool perspective," Alexander said. "Obviously I know what special teams brings to the game — it's not appreciated on a grand scheme — but it is what it is, and I'm fine with getting this attention now that I've done a little bit on defense. Now it's about consistency." ___

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