Redskins defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio spoke highly of linebacker Reuben Foster's involvement in the team's virtual offseason, but unfortunately, the coach seemed unsure about the linebackers' prospects of returning to the field.
"I think he’s done a good job of trying to be involved in the meetings and we’ve approached it as though he’ll be there," Del Rio said last week on a video conference call with reporters.
"Then we’ll see whether we get the clearance or not for him to actually go."
And there's the catch.
Foster blew out his knee more than a year ago, and the injury was so severe that it caused nerve damage. That caused Foster to lose feeling in one foot, but in January, he was able to regain that feeling.
With a new coaching staff and a new crew of linebackers nothing is certain for Foster as he works to overcome the injured torn ACL, MCL and nerve damage. An NFL Network report about the nerve damage suggested it was a similar injury that Cowboys LB Jaylon smith sustained in his final college game in 2016. He missed all of the 2016 season in Dallas, but hasn't missed a game since and made the Pro Bowl last year.
If Foster could follow a similar recovery would be tremendous news for the Redskins.
Contractually the Redskins gave little indication to expect a similar recovery though. Last month the team elected not to exercise the fifth-year option on Foster's rookie contract, so if he plays this year, he will be headed towards free agency in 2021. Of course, if Foster gets back on the field, the team could try to work out a contract extension in season.
Since a controversial waiver claim landed Foster in Washington towards the end of the 2018 season, the former Alabama linebacker is yet to play a single snap in a Redskins uniform. When former team president Bruce Allen claimed Foster despite two domestic violence arrests in one year and his release from the 49ers it ignited a firestorm across the NFL, and the league quickly moved to put him on the Commissioner's Exempt List. That ended his 2018 season. Eventually Foster was cleared by police and by the league and was primed for a major role in 2019 before he injured his knee and leg in the first session on OTAs in May 2019.
Allen was invested in Foster's success, but the new staff led by Ron Rivera does not have the same level of investment. The team moved away from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 and signed Thomas Davis and Kevin Pierre-Louis as free agents in addition to re-signing Jon Bostic. Washington also drafted Michigan Khaleke Hudson in the sixth round. All of those players along with 2019 standout Cole Holcomb and 2018 draft pick Shaun Dion Hamilton make for a fairly full linebacker group already.
"I think what we have is an interesting mix. I am excited to get them on the field and let them compete," Del Rio said of the Redskins linebacker unit. "We have a blend."
Before the injury Foster would be a lock for a roster spot. He's incredibly physically gifted. Now, if Foster gets medically cleared and gets back on the field, he needs to be ready to compete.
"In terms of the mental approach and in terms of his participation in the meetings, being up to date with the install, getting the coaching and all of that, he’s been on point with that," Del Rio said. "The part we can’t impact right now, is where he’s at with his rehab and whether he gets the clearance to go."
Unfortunately for all parties it's the part that Del Rio can't impact - the injury - that will make the biggest impact on Foster's future.
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