Questions remain at linebacker for Redskins

Perry Riley Jr., DeMarco Murray

Perry Riley Jr. is the only proven full-time starter at inside linebacker for Washington. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

With the signing of Akeem Jordan on Wednesday morning, the Washington Redskins acquired yet another candidate for the starting inside linebacker spot next to Perry Riley Jr., and a player capable of helping their special teams units.

Jordan became the third inside linebacker Washington has added since free agency began. Washington previously added former Houston Texan Darryl Sharpton and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Adam Hayward.

Where do these moves leave the Redskins’ linebacking corps? They help, but a fair number of questions remain.

Inside linebacker certainly is now more crowded, but it’s hard to say if that’s a significantly improved position.

Washington lost a great player in London Fletcher. His effectiveness had diminished at the age of 38, but his knowledge and experience will be hard to replace.

The Redskins would like for Riley to emerge as the leader of the defense, and become an extension of Jim Haslett. But that could take some time. Riley led Washington in tackles last season, but he tended to disappear at times. He’ll have to be more disruptive to better set the tone this year.

As for the spot next to him, that job appears to be up for grabs.

Of the three – Jordan, Sharpton and Hayward – none are established as full-time starters.

Hayward has played in 107 games in seven years, but has started only 13 of them. Meanwhile, he served as special teams captain for the Bucs. Jordan has the most extensive starting experience, getting the nod in 44 of 98 games. He started 10 games each in 2009 and 2013. Sharpton is the youngest of the trio. The fourth-year pro (drafted one spot ahead of Riley in 2010) has started 19 of 42 games. Sharpton started the last eight games of the 2013 season for Houston.

That competition could come down to Sharpton and Jordan.

Meanwhile, Hayward and three to four others could compete for two backup spots. Washington still has 2012 fourth-rounder Keenan Robinson on the roster. But the Texas product missed half of his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle, and missed all of last season with the same injury on the other side.

Washington’s coaches had hoped to groom him behind Fletcher and then move him into that starting role. But things didn’t play out according to plan. This year he must prove that he can stay healthy, and that he can contribute down the road.

Josh Hull did well on special teams and will fight to remain on the roster, as will Will Compton, who got the call up from the practice squad late in the year, and Jeremy Kimbrough, who missed his rookie season following shoulder surgery. The Redskins also signed Adrian Robinson late in the year when Nick Barnett got hurt, but it’s hard to say how great his chances are of making the team.

The outside linebacker spot has stability on the starting level as Washington has a pair of Pro Bowl pass-rushers in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. But depth remains an issue. The only backups at that spot are Brandon Jenkins and Gabe Miller.

Washington’s coaches claimed that Jenkins – a fifth-round pick out of Florida State – would’ve been a second-round pick had he been healthy in his final college season. Yet, he could hardly get on the field last year, dressing for only five games.  Miller signed with the team as a tight end, but this offseason will make the move to outside linebacker.

Is that enough for Washington to get by? Coaches hope that Jenkins can make a big leap forward in Year 2 and become a situational pass rusher. But the Redskins still seem to need another piece. What happens if Orakpo or Kerrigan gets hurt?

The talent on the free agent market has dwindled, but a few players remain. Denver’s Shaun Phillips remains as the top unsigned pass-rusher. But he’s a starter type and wouldn’t fit well here, a person with knowledge of the situation speculated. Rob Jackson remains unsigned, but he has no interest in returning, and visited the Raiders this week. Washington brass doesn’t seem to have interest in retaining Jackson either. They’ve had only a couple lukewarm discussions with his representatives.

The talent drops off significantly after that. It’s a strong possibility that Washington looks to the draft for help here.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

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