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Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Nose tackle

Finlay: There's a lot to do on the Redskins defensive line, and it starts in the middle. Expect free agent addition Stacy McGee to have a big opportunity to take over the nose tackle job. McGee ranked as a +5.5 run defender last season as rated by Pro Football Focus, and at 6-foot-3 and 308 lbs., he has the size to man the middle. McGee has plenty of talent, health has been his hiccup. He has only played all 16 games in one of his four seasons, and in 2016, he played only nine games.

Beyond McGee, the Redskins have some lottery tickets. Practice squad players A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu both have the size to play nose, but neither have the experience. Could Francis or Mbu emerge for significant snaps with the Washington defense? Sure, but it would be unexpected. 

A bigger lottery ticket remains. Phil Taylor, a former first-round pick in 2012, has shown serious talent at the nose tackle position. At 6-foot-3 and 337 lbs., Taylor certainly has the size for the spot. At the same time, Taylor hasn't played an NFL game since 2014, losing both 2015 and 2016 to injury. Counting on Taylor would be short-sighted, but if he can remain healthy, there could be big value.

According to Jay Gruden, the most important piece of the nose tackle puzzle will come from new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Gruden said he expects Tomsula to "make" a nose tackle and improve the Redskins D-line. It's a tall order, but Tomsula has an impressive track record working in the trenches. 

Tandler: The organization’s refusal to get a legitimate nose tackle either in free agency or in the draft will lead to them again spend the spring and summer trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

That’s what they did last year with Ziggy Hood. He took a lot of snaps at nose tackle and he simply wasn’t a fit for the job. It wasn’t his fault that the Redskins allowed a league-worst 5.0 yards per rushing attempt on first down; he’s an end and he was much more effective there.

Matt Ioannidis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, also took some snaps at nose, with similar results. At 6-3, 308, he just doesn’t have the size to be effective.

The worst part of it here is that they really can’t get too far in identifying the 2017 nose tackle. In the spring with no pads and no contact allowed they really can’t do much besides work on technique and learn assignments. Tomsula’s effort to “make” a nose tackle won’t really get going until they get to Richmond in late August.

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Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, 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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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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#REDSKINSTALK Podcast: Breaking down the 2017 NFL Draft Picks

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#REDSKINSTALK Podcast: Breaking down the 2017 NFL Draft Picks

The 2017 NFL Draft was an entertaining one, to say the least, and the Redskins ended up with some interesting picks. CSN Redskins Insider JP Finlay and Rich Tandler take an in-depth look at all 10 of the team's picks, and Tandler shares an embarrassing revelation about Dave Chappelle on the latest edition of the #REDSKINS TALK Podcast.

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!