In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Who will start at inside linebacker?
Tandler: I don’t think that this is a very hard question, really. The two guys who finished in the middle in 2015 were doing a very good job and I see them being back as the starters in 2016.
Mason Foster was picked up during the season when some injuries hit and he moved into the starting job at Moe linebacker in the latter part of the season after Perry Riley was injured. I don’t want to say that there is cause and effect here but the Redskins went on a four-game winning streak to finish the season and wrap up the NFC East title. Foster picked up the defense quickly and made 26 tackles.
Will Compton did not start the year at the top of the depth chart either. He started two games early in the year when Riley went out with a calf injury, returned to a reserve role for a few weeks, and then grabbed the starting job in midseason and didn’t give it up. He’s a Scot McCloughan type of player, not the biggest or the fastest but smart and hard working. There are flaws in Compton’s game but nobody will spend more time in the film room and on the practice field trying to correct them.
What about the two players who started the season at inside linebacker? Keenan Robinson proved to be a bad fit in Joe Barry’s scheme and is likely to leave as a free agent. Perry Riley has a $5 million cap number and he may be released. It certainly would be hard for him to take a backup role at that cap number.
El-Bashir: Thanks to the emergence of Will Compton and Mason Foster in the second half of 2015, the Redskins are in better shape at inside linebacker than they are at other positions on defense. Compton and Foster put up solid numbers as individuals and, almost as important, showed good chemistry as a tandem. Because of that, they’ve earned the right to be penciled in as the starters as offseason activity picks up (assuming, of course, Foster re-signs, which appears likely).
But I’m not 100-percent sure that GM Scot McCloughan sees the position as settled. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if McCloughan signs a young(ish) potential starter in free agency or invests a draft pick at inside backer. That’s not a knock on Compton and/or Foster, I just get the sense that the organization is open to upgrading the position…for the right price, that is.
Keenan Robinson began 2015 as a starter but finished the season by watching all but four snaps against the Packers from the sideline. Due to become a free agent, a fresh start elsewhere might be needed.
Perry Riley, meanwhile, was inconsistent early in '15 but played some of his best football in the second half, once it became clear that his grasp on a starting job was slipping. Then he suffered a broken foot during practice in early December and did not see the field again. He’s due to count $5 million against the salary cap next season and the Redskins can save $4 million by cutting him.
There’s also Martrell Spaight to consider. The fifth round pick missed almost all of his rookie year with a concussion, so expecting him to come in a challenge for a starting job would seem to be a stretch. Coaches do, however, like his long-term potential.
So, as you see, there are a lot moving parts. I suspect Compton and Foster will get the chance to reclaim their starting jobs in ’16. But they may have to fight off a challenger (or three) in order to stay on top of the depth chart.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Today: Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Tomorrow: Who on defense will take the next step?