Lorenzo Alexander makes his championship weekend picks
For the past three seasons, Lorenzo Alexander has ranked among the NFL’s most productive players on special teams, racking up impressive statistics on the Redskins' kick and punt coverage units.
On Sunday, after years of being overlooked, he’ll finally receive the recognition he has long deserved when the veteran officially joins football’s elite in the annual Pro Bowl.
“The hard work and dedication finally paid off,” said Alexander, who has served as the Redskins' special teams captain each of the past three seasons. “It’s one of the highest honors you can get.”
This season, Alexander led the league with 21 tackles on special teams. Still, he wasn't sure he would make the cut until he received the congratulatory phone call from special teams coach Danny Smith because, as Alexander pointed out, special teams play is much more difficult to gauge than, say, Robert Griffin III’s contributions on offense or London Fletcher’s impact on defense.
“It’s a little bit of a lost art and it’s become a little bit trivialized,” Alexander said. “It’s much like the offensive line – it’s hard to follow. You can’t see it. It’s hard to break it down. It’s hard to quantify how good a guy is at that position. I led the league this year, but last year I was just as effective. I don’t think people are as educated about it because it’s not a focal point like offense and defense.”
Indeed, it is harder for special teams players to stand out from the crowd. But that said, it was impossible to ignore Alexander's stellar play during the final two months of the season.
Like many of his teammates, the 29-year-old elevated his play following the Redskins' bye week and was a critical component as the team made its improbable push toward the NFC East title. During the seven-game winning streak, Alexander recorded at least one tackle on punt and/or kick coverage units, and twice made multiple tackles.
His best performance, in fact, came in Cleveland against star returner Josh Cribbs.
In the first quarter of the Redskins' eventual 38-21 victory, Alexander shed his blocker on a kickoff and delivered a crushing blow on Cribbs at the Cleveland 23-yard line, just before the speedster could turn the corner. Alexander popped up from the turf, turned to toward the Redskins’ sideline and screamed, “Oooooooooh, that’s what I’m talking about it!”
In the fourth quarter, Alexander did it again. He simply overpowered his blocker and launched himself into Cribbs, knocking the returner two yards backward at the Browns’ 28. It should be noted that he made the second tackle after suffered a shoulder injury earlier in the game.
Big tackles, though, aren’t how Alexander measures his performances.
“You judge yourself by where you are relative to the ball when [the opponent] is on the ground,” he said. “Obviously, you always want to be in the picture or in on every tackle.”
And this past season he was, despite the additional challenge of facing two blockers on most kicks. The extra attention, he said, certainly made it more difficult to find open space, but he usually managed to do just that thanks to shedding weight in the offseason. Alexander dropped 20 pounds last summer in an effort to aide his transition on defense to inside linebacker. The unintended result was picking up a step on special teams, where, on kickoffs, he's the third player from the sideline and is granted the freedom to do whatever it takes to make a tackle.
Alexander currently checks in at 245 pounds, down from the 275 pounds he weighed at the start of training camp of the 2011 season. In 2006, amazingly, he showed up in Washington as a practice squad defensive tackle who weighed over 300 pounds.
Now he’s one of the Redskins’ quicker - and most important - players.
“Throughout the season while watching film, [teammates] were like, ‘Zo, was that you running like that?’ Losing 20 pounds in the offseason – and 50-60 pounds over the course of my career – has definitely made me more explosive and faster,” Alexander said. “Some of those plays I got to this year, I would have probably missed in year’s past because I would have been a step slower.”
Alexander couldn’t have picked a better time to produce a strong season and be recognized for his efforts. As a pending unrestricted agent, it will give him some additional leverage as the team and his agent begin negotiations in the coming weeks.
Contract status, though, won’t be on Alexander's mind this week in Honolulu, where he’ll share his experience with his wife, three daughters, mother, uncle and a cousin. (It’s actually Alexander’s second trip to Hawaii. His mother, Stephanie Moore, took him there on vacation when he was 5 years old. Now he’s returning the favor.)
“It’s a great sense of accomplishment,” he said with a smile. “Especially since you’re getting recognized by your peers and the coaches from around the league.”