Nick Barnett stood on the practice field Thursday morning wearing a white Washington Redskins cap turned backward, his hands behind his back. He was to the right of London Fletcher, picking the brain of a fellow old-man linebacker. There was a moment where they each stretched out an arm, pointing toward something in the play that was being run.
Fletcher was 32 when he signed with the Redskins six years ago, and he’s still going strong. Barnett is now 32, and he’s the latest addition to the team’s linebacker corps. He signed a one-year deal as a sort of London Fletcher Insurance Policy, a veteran to have around in case the 38-year-old guy ever misses a game.
”He’s definitely a good teacher,” Barnett said. ”He’s one of those guys I’ve always looked up to as a player, being one of the undersized linebackers and seeing the way he plays, his tenacity, his relentless pursuit, his consistency as a linebacker. He knows the defense inside out.”
Barnett and Fletcher both came to Washington via the Buffalo Bills. Barnett spent the last two years there after eight with the Green Bay Packers. He’s started 139 games and, like Fletcher, has been a tackling machine, topping out with 102 with the Packers in 2007.
But he’s been banged up the last few years. Right knee in 2008. Right wrist in 2010. Right ankle in 2011. Right knee again in 2012. He didn’t miss a game in 2011 or 2012, but the Bills cut him in February after he failed a physical. He then had surgery on his right knee, and the subsequent rehab essentially kept him from signing with a new team until now.
”I’m going to ride it until the wheels fall off,” Barnett said, ”until they tell me I can’t play no more. I enjoy the game, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying the game. As long as someone has a home for me, I’m going to bring my pillow and my sleeping bag.”
His pillow on Wednesday was in a Richmond hotel, where he waited all day to hear if the Redskins were impressed enough with his workouts to sign him. He said he watched three movies, joking that he ordered them on the team’s bill.
”Nothing good,” he said. ”It’s been a bad summer for movies.”
Barnett said he previously talked to a couple of other teams, but he wanted to play for the defending NFC East champions.
”I don’t want any more 6-10 seasons,” said Barnett, who experienced that very record two last two years with the Bills.
Barnett has started all 139 regular season games in which he’s played in the NFL, so he’ll have to deal with being a backup for the first time in his career if he makes the 53-man roster. Fletcher has never missed a game in 15 seasons in the league.
”Even though I’ve started every game that I’ve played, I’ve always thought you could come off the bench and be just as big of an impact as well,” Barnett said.
Barnett is basically replacing 2012 fourth-round draft pick Keenan Robinson, at least for now. Robinson is being groomed as Fletcher’s eventual successor, but he tore his left pectoral muscle on the opening day of training camp, his second shoulder injury in less than a year.
Barnett stayed on the field after the morning walkthrough for more conditioning drills to get him back into shape. At least the playbook shouldn’t be hard to learn – he said it’s similar to the one he had in Green Bay.
”It is almost like if you spoke Spanish for two years,” Barnett said, ”and then you stop speaking it and then you go back and read the book: `Oh yeah, I remember those words.”’