This week at Redskins Park represented yet another example of the importance of staying ready. In the NFL, dreams can end suddenly, but they can also spring back to life in an instant.
This time last week, new Washington Redskins linebacker Mason Foster was training at the University of South Dakota and working on re-programming his mind after surprisingly getting cut by the Chicago Bears just before the start of the season.
A fifth-year veteran, Foster had spent the first four seasons of his career with Tampa Bay, where he started 54 of 57 games, recorded 100 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. Tampa Bay’s previous regime had drafted Foster in the third round out of the University of Washington in 2011. But the 6-foot-1, 241-pounder wasn’t deemed an ideal fit in Lovie Smith’s system, which requires the “mike” linebacker to drop in coverage frequently, opposed to the Bucs’ previous defense, which kept Foster in the box more.
Foster signed a one-year deal with Chicago in March and this preseason recorded 15 tackles, a sack and forced fumble. However, that still wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I’ve learned over a couple years that nothing is guaranteed,” Foster said. “But I’d be lying if I wasn’t surprised. I felt like I played well. But it is what it is. It’s a business.”
After getting cut, Foster toyed with the idea of returning to his home in Tampa, but he instead drove seven hours from Chicago to the University of South Dakota, where his roommate from college serves as an assistant football coach. Foster used the facilities there and trained and waited for the call from another NFL team.
“I’m an optimistic guy, so I knew [the call] would come sooner or later. It’s just a matter of being ready. I didn’t want to be that guy, like a big-time player, got cut, fell off and off, you didn’t keep working and you’re out of shape. So, I just kept working and I knew I’d get a chance. … I knew I was still a good player, but knew it was a matter of time.”
With Perry Riley Jr. still ailing from a calf injury, and Washington’s special teams units also hit hard by injury, Washington needed help another inside linebacker and called Foster, who signed on Tuesday, hit the practice field on Wednesday and is expected to play in some capacity on Sunday.
Will Compton is expected to make another start in place of Riley, lining up next to Keenan Robinson. However, Foster has seen time on certain packages, and likely on special teams.
Having served as a starter for his first four NFL seasons, Foster hasn’t played much on special teams. However, he does have some experience on punt, punt return and kickoff units.
“I love playing special teams,” Foster said. “That’s the way I started off on college as a true freshman, running down and making plays.”
Foster will become the second NFL veteran Washington has signed off the street and then promptly pressed into duty. On Sept. 15, with Chris Culliver suspended and Justin Rogers hobbled, they signed cornerback Will Blackmon, who played just five days later against the Rams. Then against the Giants, Blackmon logged 29 snaps on defense and 10 on special teams.
With Culliver banged up and DeAngelo Hall injured, Blackmon served as one of Washington’s top cornerbacks along with Bashaud Breeland on Thursday.
The eighth-year veteran said his experience in four other defenses helped him quickly pick up Washington’s concepts.
Likewise, Foster said his the knowledge gained from his time in Tampa, plus the offseason and preseason in Chicago, the latter of which represented his introduction to the 3-4 defense, have helped him with his crash course in Joe Barry’s defense.
“A lot of it, man, after playing four, five years in the league, it’s just terminology,” Foster said. “A lot of the same concepts. You’ve got to understand what your piece is in the puzzle, what they call it and where you fit.”
Foster also found familiar faces in Washington’s locker room once he signed. He went to the same college as Dashon Goldson. Although Goldson left before Foster got to the University of Washington, the safety often came back and offered advice to the younger Huskies. The two also played together in Tampa. Foster also played in Tampa with linebacker/special teams captain Adam Hayward, who is on injured reserve recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
Now, Foster has a chance to help fill the void caused by Hayward’s injury, and potentially could become a contributor on defense as well.
“Any time you get to play football, it’s exciting,” he said, “so I’ll take whatever plays they give me.”