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Redskins 2017 Roster Battle: With addition of Zach Brown, increased competition at linebacker

Redskins 2017 Roster Battle: With addition of Zach Brown, increased competition at linebacker

The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end | Nickel cornerback 

Inside linebacker

The contenders: The Redskins signed Zach Brown in free agency to bolster the middle of their defense, and his arrival should do just that. A Pro Bowler last season in Buffalo, Brown made nearly 150 tackles to go with four sacks, an interception and four pass break-ups. Brown didn't sign a one-year, prove-it type deal with the Redskins to sit the bench. He will start, and that means one of Mason Foster or Will Compton will be sent to the bench. Compton re-signed with the team as a restricted free agent, and will be the front runner to start alongside Brown. Why Compton? There are a few reasons, but the biggest one is that Brown has played mostly Will linebacker in his previous stops. That's Foster's position, as Compton mans the Mike linebacker spot. Compton knows the Washington defense, was voted captain in 2016, and is able to get unit into the huddle and make all the calls. Compton and Foster proved a solid duo in the second half of the 2015 season, though 2016 did not produce as much. Compton missed 13 tackles, second most on the team, though he played much of the year with a hurt knee and was forced to miss a game late in the year. Foster played well in 2016, particularly in the season finale against the Giants. He made 17 tackles in that game and was the best Redskins player on the field. Martrell Spaight and Chris Carter will provide depth and play special teams. Su'a Cravens played inside linebacker in 2016, but in 2017, he will play safety, though some play as a dime LB remains would not be a shock. Despite holding 10 picks, the Redskins did not select an inside linebacker during the 2017 Draft, even with Brown, Foster and Compton eligible for free agency in 2018.

And the winner is...

Finlay: Compton has the inside track to start alongside Brown, but Foster will play plenty. Cravens logged nearly 300 snaps as a LB in 2016, and Foster seems likely to gobble those up and more. What will be most interesting to watch is if Brown pushes for the Mike spot in camp. Unlikely, but as he grows as a player he might want to run the defense, especially with another run at free agency in 2018 after he found a down market in 2017. Pro Football Focus ranked Foster as the Redskins best linebacker in 2016 and fourth best defender overall. If he continues to make plays, he could also push Compton at the Mike spot. This battle will likely push into Richmond, but the important thing for fans to remember is that the Redskins play a true 3-4 base defense on only about 30 percent of their snaps. Barring injury, a combination of Compton, Foster and Brown will all play a lot this fall. 

Tandler: I think that the point that JP makes at the end is the most important. All three inside linebackers will play a lot. Don’t forget that Su’a Cravens, who was the nickel linebacker last year, is now a safety. That leaves snaps that will have to be picked up. The issue they have is that while it’s arguable that Compton is the third best player of the three he may be on the field more often than Brown or Foster because of his role as the one who calls the plays. It will be interesting to see if Foster and/or Brown work on calling defenses in training camp. 

I think the coaches like Compton for a lot of reasons but the missed tackles are a big issue. Also, I doubt that all three are around in 2018 so is not only competition for an immediate starting job but for employment next year and beyond. 

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins are underdogs more often than they are favorites in 2017

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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