ASHBURN, Va. – Here's one way for Keenan Robinson to look at it: He's running out of pectoral muscles to tear.
The Washington Redskins linebacker tore one on the right side, severing a vital link between upper chest and shoulder, when he was a rookie two years ago in a late-season game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Then one on the left side came undone last year when he had an awkward fall during a drill on the opening day of training camp, ending his season before it could start.
"Yeah, man, it was crazy," Robinson said. "Especially the second time. The second time was a freak incident."
The Redskins drafted Robinson as an eventual successor to London Fletcher, who broached legendary status as a longtime captain who never missed a game. Now that Fletcher has retired — now that age has finally caught up to the ageless — Robinson is getting his turn, working with the starting defense during offseason practices.
"He's doing a great job," coach Jay Gruden said. "So the big thing is keep him healthy."
At Wednesday's practice, Robinson was literally in the middle of the action, calling signals and barking adjustments. The seconds before the snap sound like pure chaos to those who don't know the game, with multiple players on both offense and defense shouting instructions based on formations and movements.
Ultimately, Robinson has to make sure everyone on his side of the ball is on the same page, a burden of responsibility he learned from two years of shadowing Fletcher.
"I just watched London," Robinson said. "How he approaches every day of practice, how he approaches every day of his work, and how to approach it like a professional. And that helped me kind of mimic his doings. And it's making a smooth transition for me right now."
The Redskins signed three veteran inside linebackers — Akeem Jordan, Adam Hayward and Darryl Sharpton — during free agency as possible replacements for Fletcher, but Gruden has been steady in praise for Robinson, using words such as "outstanding," ''excellent" and "disruptive" to describe Robinson's physical condition and ability on the field.
"Just from a short period of time, he's one of the guys on the field that stands out: 'Is that Keenan again?'" Gruden said.
If there's one adjustment that might be a challenge for Robinson, it will be the need to become more vocal in a position of leadership. He is far from the most outgoing player on the team, and he answers questions from a reporter with a polite and unassuming "Yes, sir." The other inside linebacker in the Redskins' 3-4 scheme, Perry Riley, is just as quiet.
"I think that'll come naturally," Robinson said. "Obviously my role on the team the last couple of years wasn't that great of a role, so I didn't really have to do that part. London was the guy. Now if I'm going to step up and play this role, obviously we need a leader in the middle. Perry can do it; I can do it. Someone's got to be more vocally there to be able to get the guys going."
Gruden said Robinson doesn't necessarily need to change.
"As long as he's communicating the calls, that's important," Gruden said. "As long as he's playing hard, doing the right thing, that's leadership enough in a lot of cases. You don't have to a Ray Lewis-type of leader to play middle linebacker and be successful. There's been linebackers who aren't quite that vocal that have been very successful. I'm more about the play than I am about the talk, anyway."
Meanwhile, Robinson is doing all he can to keep from tearing yet another muscle.
"If you're body's telling you something, you've got to listen to it," he said. "Focus on staying more flexible, strengthen different muscles that can help my chest and my back."
NOTES: WR DeSean Jackson was back at practice after tweaking his hamstring two weeks ago, although he was "still a little bit tentative" on some routes, according to Gruden. ... Gruden's Super Bowl-winning brother, Jon, attended practice. "Hopefully I'll get him to talk to the team a little bit tomorrow," Jay Gruden said, "and pick his brain some more after practice." ... Gruden said NT Barry Cofield (hernia surgery) won't be full-go until training camp in July. ... CB DeAngelo Hall was absent from practice for personal reasons.
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