Since Mike Shanahan first coached the Redskins in 2010, the team has employed a 3-4 base defense. In that scheme, inside linebackers play a large and important role.
For the 2019 Washington defense, linebacker might be the most interesting position on the team. Why?
It all starts with Reuben Foster.
An elite talent in college at the University of Alabama, Foster was a first-round pick in 2017. He had a well documented two year run in San Francisco, marred by two domestic violence arrests and his release from the Niners last fall. Beyond the domestic violence allegations, which were both dropped in court, Foster also had a gun charge and a marijuana charge in the time since he was drafted.
All that said, if Foster can keep his act together, he could present a significant influx of talent to the Redskins linebacker group. It's a huge if though, because even in his rookie season in San Francisco, Foster did not consistently show the same talent as he did at 'Bama.
Here's what could help Foster: Playing alongside his college teammate in Shaun Dion Hamilton. Those two paired well in college, and while the NFL is a different beast entirely, Hamilton is the heady type that can account for some of Foster's freelancing at linebacker.
While the two Crimson Tide alums get the most attention, Mason Foster is easily the most accomplished linebacker on the Redskins roster. He's made more than 120 tackles in two of the last three seasons, with only an injury riddled 2017 withstanding. An eight-year NFL veteran, Foster will be the only linebacker on the roster with more than three years experience, which has real value. He had an ugly incident last year with fans on social media, but inside the Ashburn walls, Foster is well respected for his work ethic by both coaches and teammates. That's important for young players to see.
After the two Fosters and Hamilton, the Redskins also have Josh Harvey-Clemons and rookie Cole Holcomb.
Harvey-Clemons has proved a useful player in the Redskins nickel package. He has some coverage ability, and began to replace Zach Brown in that role early last season. The Redskins will miss Brown's speed this fall after releasing him before free agency opened, particularly if he makes an immediate impact with the Eagles.
Holcomb, however, fits a similar mold as Brown.
Both linebackers went to North Carolina, and both have elite speed for the position. Brown was very good in Washington in 2017, but not so much in 2018, which led to his release. The rookie Holcomb will not touch Brown's 2017 level this year, but might be able to provide some speed to the 'Skins linebacker group and on special teams, not to mention a cheap price tag.
The Redskins linebacker group offers arguably the greatest variance in performance of any projected unit. And it hinges on Foster.
If Reuben Foster can live up to his Alabama potential, he can be great. If he gets in more trouble, he's probably out of the NFL. The margin is razor thin.
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