Once again, the Washington Redskins find themselves in search of stability and a greater impact at their inside linebacker position.
Two years ago, injuries to Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley at various points in the season opened the door for greater roles for Will Compton and Mason Foster. Last training camp Compton returned as the leader of the defense, and Foster held off Riley in a battle for the position next to Compton.
Foster wound up leading the team with 124 tackles, while adding a sack and forced fumble, and Compton added 106 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. However, both have their shortcomings in the eyes of the team’s talent evaluators. Compton is an effective communicator and has good instincts, but he lacks elite closing speed. Foster plays with great physicality, but he struggles in pass coverage at times.
With their defense having ranked among the worst in the league against the run in 2016, Redskins coaches and officials saw a need for additional options.
So, in free agency, they signed sixth-year veteran Zach Brown, who made the Pro Bowl for Buffalo last season after recording 149 tackles (second in the NFL), an interception, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Brown’s addition sets the stage for what essentially is a three-way competition for two jobs at the heart of Washington’s defense.
Brown appears to be the most athletic of the three, and this offseason, he focused more on studying quarterbacks’ passing tendencies in hopes of improving his coverage skills.
During offseason workouts, Compton and Foster and Brown all rotated at the inside linebacker positions.
Compton often started off the base packages in his usual role as signal-caller of the defense at the “mike” position, with Foster lined up next to him at the “jack” position, just as they did all of last season. Then, at times, Brown took Foster’s place — more often than not, in nickel packages that are primarily used on passing downs. Other times still, Foster replaced Compton with Brown lining up alongside him.
Look for similar rotations and parings during training camp.
It’s possible that third-year pro Martrell Spaight joins the mix after missing all of the offseason practices while rehabbing from a shoulder injury. He played primarily on special teams last season, but at times filled in for Compton.
It’s believed, however, that the trio of Compton, Foster and Brown lead the way as favorites for the starting spots. Some insiders predicted that Brown will emerge as the starter at the “jack” position, and that Compton and Foster will battle it out for the “mike” position.
But with nothing decided yet, Redskins fans should stay tuned throughout training camp.