I still remember inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr.’s first start in the NFL, in Week 10 of the 2011 season.
It was an otherwise forgettable day for the Washington Redskins, as Rex Grossman was the surprise starting quarterback, thus ending the John Beck era. It was also a coming-out party for Leonard Hankerson, who caught six passes for 106 yards before tearing his labrum and missing the remainder of the season.
But for Riley Jr., it was the payoff for months of hard work, as he had developed from a raw rookie in 2010 into a valuable contributor and special teams stud in 2011.
After taking over for incumbent starter Rocky McIntosh in the second half of the previous two games, Riley Jr. was ready to get his shot in the starting lineup.
And he never looked back.
He finished the day with a stellar line of nine credited tackles in another ho-hum loss. He would exceed that number in each of the next two weeks, piling up 11 stops vs. Dallas and 14 tackles in a rainy win in Seattle.
Of course, he never wanted to talk to the media afterward, admitting that he doesn’t really do cameras and microphones. He just isn’t that kind of guy, which is why he’s never gotten the type of attention he deserves.
Playing alongside aging star London Fletcher, Perry was the ultimate sidekick, playing lightning to London’s thunder. If it was a running play, Riley was happy to hit the hole first, peeling off the fullback and allowing Fletcher to make the play. If it was a passing play, Riley Jr. was adept in coverage or providing a free blitzer.
Last season, the baton was passed, as Riley Jr. took over the Redskins’ tackle title for the first time in five seasons. Fletcher got the attention, but it was Riley Jr. flying around making plays. Not only that, but he also played special teams coverage, making plays on a returner before going out for every snap on defense.
It’s not a surprise that Redskins Nation would recognize his contributions in an otherwise disappointing season, but the results of the most recent poll on Redskins.com were firmly in favor of bringing No. 56 back to D.C.:
Redskins fans followed up yesterday’s signing by sharing the love with Riley Jr. on his Twitter handle (@PR56)
And even local media member Grant H. Paulsen gave the move a big thumbs up:
And of course that affection goes both ways, as Perry Riley tweeted his appreciation:
So even though Perry Riley Jr. may have gotten dangerously close to testing the waters of free agency, he always had a home in Washington.
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