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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Shaun Dion Hamilton (drafted in the fifth round)

Departures: Will Compton (free agent)

Starters: Zach Brown, Mason Foster

Other roster locks: Josh Harvey-Clemons

On the bubble: Hamilton, Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight

How the inside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: This is a difficult comparison to make since only about half of the teams use the 3-4 with two inside linebackers and there are many variations when they go out of their base defense. Brown certainly is in the upper tier of players at his position. Foster’s skill set may not be coveted by many teams around the league, but he is a perfect fit in the Redskins’ defense in many ways. The player who could differentiate this group from others around the league is Harvey-Clemons. If he turns into a top-notch nickel LB the inside linebackers will be a great asset. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  This is about health. In 2017, Foster missed 11 games, Brown was hampered by a variety of injuries before sitting out the last three games. Compton was the top backup to both players and he went to injured reserve after just three starts. They did re-sign Vigil, who had spent training camp with the team, and he played pretty well near the end of the season. If the front-line players can stay on the field for most of the season this should be a much better group than the one that was partially responsible for the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing defense. 

2018 Inside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: The 2017 season was supposed to be a redshirt year for Harvey-Clemons as he transitions from college safety to NFL linebacker. He played a lot in the base defense during the offseason practices and that indicates that they are considering him for a bigger role beyond just playing nickel. You have to wonder how his size (6-4, 230) will affect his ability to get off of blocks. 

Most to prove: Spaight was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and he has yet to establish a regular role in the defense. It was telling that when they needed someone to start in the latter part of last year they brought back and started Vigil and mostly kept Spaight is going into the last year of his contract, but it would not be surprising to see Vigil beat him out for the last roster spot.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins traded up in the sixth round to get Hamilton. It wasn’t a blockbuster deal but the fact that they thought enough of him to move up says something. Gruden has said that he thinks Hamilton could be a starter at some point. He was one of the leaders on a strong Alabama defense before injuries struck. Hamilton is not going to start this year barring multiple injuries, but he should develop a role as the season goes on and be ready to compete in 2019.

Bottom line: The Redskins have not invested much in terms of free agent dollars or draft capital in the inside linebacker position in recent seasons. That changed somewhat this offseason as they made sure to spend to retain Brown and Foster. Neither commanded a huge contract but they did make a commitment and that is important. Last year Brown gave the defense a sideline-to-sideline dimension it hasn’t had in quite some time and retaining him was critical. Inside linebacker may not be a major strength for the defense this year but it should be able to get the job done. 

2018 Redskins position outlook series


 

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Amidst Jags controversy, Landon Collins goes full Suge Knight to recruit Jalen Ramsey to Redskins

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Amidst Jags controversy, Landon Collins goes full Suge Knight to recruit Jalen Ramsey to Redskins

Even during this relatively quiet period of the NFL calendar, there's still plenty of controversy around the league.

Take Jacksonville for example, where Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been firing back at executive vice president Tom Coughlin for saying he wants every player to attend the team's voluntary offseason workouts. Ramsey, as you may have already guessed, has elected to skip these workouts. 

Seeing an opportunity, new Redskins safety Landon Collins invited Ramsey to Washington via Twitter, going into full Suge Knight "Come to Death Row" mode to make his pitch. 

Ramsey seemed quite amused by the prospect, but also didn't seem totally opposed to the idea of teaming up with Collins in D.C. 

While it's unlikely Washington trades for Ramsey, nothing's stopping you from firing up the NFL Roster Builder and putting the two-time Pro Bowler in burgundy and gold, Redskins fans! 

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Redskins fans shouldn't hate the idea of Daniel Jones at No. 15 as much as they seem to

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Redskins fans shouldn't hate the idea of Daniel Jones at No. 15 as much as they seem to

For some reason — whether it's because they like another quarterback better, or because his college numbers don't exactly pop, or because he went to college at Duke — a ton of Redskins fans really don't like the idea of their team drafting Daniel Jones 15th overall.

In fact, its gotten to the point where some have even changed their handle on Twitter to names that reflect their anti-Jones stance. 

In a Mock Draft Special on NBC Sports Washington's MyTeams app, though, Charley Casserly has the Redskins taking Jones at pick No. 15. Now, before you punt your phone or spike your laptop, hear Casserly out on what there is to like about Jones. 

"He's the most pro-ready quarterback in this year's draft," the former GM explained. "Why do I say that? Vision and anticipation. Vision is the ability to see the field and go in a progression from one to two to three in the receivers. Anticipation — see the blitz coming, get it to the hot receiver, get the ball out before the receiver makes his break. He's very good at both of those things."

What Jones doesn't have, such as a top arm, is something you can see right away in workouts and on tape. But his strengths, such as his ability to find the right read or throw a wideout open, aren't as simple to notice.

Perhaps that's why 'Skins fans are so against him — because you have to do more projecting when it comes to his future as opposed to someone like Kyler Murray or Dwayne Haskins, guys with tons of college success and tape that will wow you.

Jay Gruden has mentioned this offseason how, if Washington does grab a QB, he expects that player to come in early and compete. They can't be treated like a minor leaguer, someone who can slowly work their way up to a place where they're ready for Sundays. 

According to Casserly at least, Jones won't need much grooming. Maybe that catches Gruden's eye.

In his mock, the analyst slotted the Duke product to the Redskins instead of Missouri's Drew Lock due to, among other things, Lock not being as accurate. Other players the Burgundy and Gold could've selected but didn't were Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell and DK Metcalf.

In the end, Casserly kept lauding Jones' readiness. In addition to his athleticism, Casserly expects Jones to come into the league and make a difference early with his eyes and his mind.

"Super smart guy," he said. "He's a natural at that stuff. That's not natural. That's stuff you have to learn."

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