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.
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.