Blache on Fletcher: 'I feel blessed to have him'
In his 12th season, linebacker London Fletcher is hoping to be named to his first Pro Bowl. According to the league's numbers, he's second in the NFL in tackles with 118. According to the team's numbers, with three games remaining, he has 144 tackles, just two short of his 16-game total last season. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache spoke Monday about coaching Fletcher:
On Fletcher's season: "London has been one of the most consistent football players I've ever been around. There are no peaks and valleys in his game. He plays consistently. He's a consummate pro. Last year he had a foot injury that didn't allow him to practice for almost the second half of the season. Yet almost every Sunday, he got shot up and he played. And he played well. This year, knock on wood, he's been healthy. And I think his level of play is ever higher than it was last season. The fact that he is practicing during the week, it's good for him and it's good for his teammates."
On Fletcher's intangibles: "I feel really blessed to have him out there on the field, taking control of things for me. He knows our gameplan, he knows what our goals and objectives are from week to week. He prepares himself as well as anybody I've known in my 20-some-odd years in this league.
On if he could imagine the defense without Fletcher: "Right now, honestly, the next guy for us would have to be H.B. Blades. Now H.B.'s a young guy, and it's a good thing that he's been exposed to London. So London's helped him and he's coming along faster. But quite honestly, it's extremely difficult for me to imagine anyone else having to take over for London on a consistent basis because he brings so much to the table -- not just football, but toughness and leadership."
On Fletcher getting overlooked every year: "Peter King did a team of the decade and London was chosen for that. How does a guy make the team of the decade but doesn't ever get voted to a Pro Bowl during that decade?"
On the Pro Bowl voting problem: "There are certain positions that are usually stat positions and it's not necessarily the quality of play. If coaches and players got past the popularity thing in the voting, I think you'd see things a bit different. The fans -- I don't want to take it away from them because they pay to the come to the game -- but they see the glitter and not necessarily the substance."
On if he could lobby coaches and players on other teams: "Honestly, London would be offended, he'd be embarrassed if he thought we went out and lobbied to get him in. I think the real joy of being in the Pro Bowl is that you are elected by your coaches and your peers, predicated on what you've done and not some campaign committee. Like in college with all the Heisman stuff. I think he'd be embarrassed by that. I think the real football people watch tape and I think they know. There are some faults in the system like any other system; it's not going to be perfect. And like I said, the classy guys, like him, the real professional guys are going to get looked over from time to time because they don't bring attention to themselves. When they walk on the football field, it's about getting the job done and winning the football game as opposed to getting some postseason honor for themselves."
On whether, at 34, Fletcher is in danger of losing a step: "He plays the game not just with his feet and his legs, but he plays with his mind and his heart. He's got a passion for the game and he prepares with that passion. So where you might lose a step sometimes when you get older, he makes it up in knowing where he needs to be and knowing the angles and the alignments. He has a feel and a sense for the game that a lot of guys never get. You don't see the decline because of his mental awareness and his understanding that, 'I'm not as fast as I was 10-11 years ago, but I'm a heck of a lot smarter. I'm a lot more cognizant of splits, line splits, depth of the running back.' All kind of issues that he computes. I'm amazed when I watch him at practice, even on Wednesdays. Because he hasn't had the time to go home and digest it all, but he's in the DVDs on Tuesdays, looking at things. And the calls he's making to his teammates on a Wednesday are impressive. There was one game this year, after the ballgame, I stopped him in the hall, and I actually told, 'You know what, London, I'm so blessed to have you because I think you understand the game better than a lot of guys that coach in this league.' That was the biggest compliment I think I could give him."
On whether Fletcher has helped Orakpo: "It's hard to be anybody in this building to be around London Fletcher every day and not be affected by him. Sometimes, it's just the way he carries himself, the way he sits in the meeting and prepares. He's taking the notes, he's asking the good questions. He's not trying to impress anyone with questions, he's trying to prepare. Orakpo's being exposed to that -- I know for a fact it helps these guys. I've seen H.B. Blades come so far these past couple years just being around London. I know it helps me as a coach. I've been coaching all these years and I pick up things up from him. When you stop learning, they might as well take you and bury you. This guy shows you things, and you just got to be around him, watch him."
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