The Washington Redskins entered the 2017 offseason with one major goal, which was to get better on the defensive side of the ball. During free agency and the draft, the team made moves with that one major goal at hand. In the process, the team added a couple pieces at inside linebacker in addition to re-signing both of last year’s starters in Mason Foster and Will Compton. The Redskins signed former Buffalo Bills linebacker Zack Brown, signed journeyman Zach Vigil, and drafted Louisville’s Josh Harvey-Clemons. Add in returning linebacker Martrell Spaight and the competition at inside linebacker is sure to be fierce at Redskins training camp for the next couple of weeks.
While the Redskins had Sunday off in Richmond, the team practiced three days this week and showed several different looks in terms of who was playing inside linebacker. In nickel packages, the team tried to sprinkle Harvey-Clemons in at nickel/dime linebacker. Other times the team used different combinations of Brown and Compton, Compton and Foster, Foster and Brown and so on. The truth is there’s a lot of time before the team needs to determine which two players will start. Redskins coaches are all happy at the other competitors at the position.
“Spaight’s done a good job, and [Zach] Vigil and we’ve got a couple other guys. Josh Harvey-Clemons is also working in the mix in some dime linebacker roles. He’s doing a good job. Again, it’s so early in camp for us to finalize any ‘You’re the one, you’re the two’ with a couple exceptions, guys like Josh Norman, [D.J.] Swearinger, guys that are obviously penciled in as No. 1 guys. But the rest of them, we want to have good competition. At the end of the day, we are going to play the best players whether they’ve been here a couple years or are free agents or rookies, it doesn’t matter we are going to give them all opportunities.”
Brown possess elite speed at the inside linebacker position and was considered a top tier player last year while in Buffalo when he made the pro-bowl. His speed puts him in a category almost by himself as a run-stopping inside linebacker. In his career, Brown has collected 410 tackles to go with 17 passes defended, 14 sacks, seven interceptions, four fumbles forced and two touchdowns.
Spaight appears to be the wildcard in all of this as the player that appears to have been picked over and injury riddled. The third-year inside linebacker is ready to make his mark on a team with a multitude of talent alongside him. Spaight doesn’t mind if he has to get his playing time on special teams, as most of the time he spent on the field in 2016 was on the kick teams. In Spaight’s only start against the Carolina Panthers in Week 15, the 23-year-old recorded 15 tackles (11 solo).
The Redskins expect to use Harvey-Clemons in nickel/dime linebacker roles much like they did Su’a Cravens last year before he transitioned to safety this offseason. The team is hoping Harvey-Clemons can have the same success Cravens experienced at the position in 2016.
It seems almost an afterthought that a combination of the three between Brown, Foster, and Compton will win out in the competition for the Redskins starting inside linebacker but the battle to determine just which two will win out may be the most interesting of all the Washington Redskins roster battles.
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