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 For The Associated Press
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -London Fletcher heard the plea as he walked off the Washington Redskins' practice field. A girl in the crowd wanted one of his nearly pristine white-and-black gloves.
At first, he politely declined. But as the girl persisted, Fletcher couldn't help himself.
``I can't believe I'm giving you my brand-new gloves,'' he said as he pulled one off and autographed it.
Fletcher and his ever-present grin may be a pushover for fan requests. The middle linebacker is anything but a pushover as a cornerstone of the Redskins' defense.
His streak of 119 consecutive starts is eighth among active players. He's led his team in tackles each of the past nine seasons and had 164 last year.
His numbers and presence at the center of the defense are good, but his biggest contribution to the Redskins may come off the field. Washington targeted Fletcher as a free agent before last season specifically because of his leadership abilities.
``When I first came in here, I knew why they were bringing me in here,'' Fletcher said. ``They wanted to add another leader to the defense, they wanted a vocal guy from the middle linebacker position.''
And, he added, ``I think I play pretty well, too.''
Taking on that sort of role doesn't just happen. When Fletcher first arrived, there was a feeling-out period as he adjusted to his new teammates.
``This year I feel obviously more comfortable with my teammates, and more comfortable with my role,'' Fletcher said.
The 5-foot-10, 245-pound Fletcher isn't an imposing figure even when the pads are on. The only defensive player on the roster shorter than Fletcher is 5-9 rookie cornerback Justin Tryon.
Redskins coach Jim Zorn, however, calls him a ``big man'' for his attitude and his talent at one of the most important positions on the defensive side of the ball.
``He's definitely the heart of the defense,'' lineman Andre Carter said.
As the middle linebacker, Fletcher is responsible for relaying the defensive calls from the sideline to the huddle, and for making adjustments before the play.
``He's like the quarterback of the defense,'' safety LaRon Landry said.
Fletcher's influence on the Redskins' defense and his strong numbers last season created talk of a Pro Bowl berth, which would have been his first.
As those around him told him he was bound to earn his first trip to Hawaii, Fletcher prepared himself for disappointment. And as had happened in previous years, Fletcher found himself named an alternate rather than a full-fledged Pro Bowler.
It's a disappointment, he says, but in his mind he's already earned the trip.
``I don't put any middle linebacker ahead of me,'' Fletcher said. ``I match myself against any of them. Bring on all takers.''
Fletcher was working at a bit of a disadvantage Thursday at training camp. His wife, Charne, gave birth to the couple's second child, son Cortland Steele Fletcher, early Tuesday morning and Fletcher has hardly had a chance to sleep since.
It didn't show as he ran around the field during practice drills, or as he easily interacted with the fans gathered to watch the Redskins workout. Fletcher remained approachable off the field and aggressive during play.
``He just totally enjoys the game, but when he's on the field, he is a football player,'' Zorn said. ``He has this knack of turning this grit on, and he just pulls everybody up with it.''
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