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For an unfamiliar Redskins linebacking group, working together is everything

For an unfamiliar Redskins linebacking group, working together is everything

Though it can sometimes be muffled by crowd noise or distance, there's one thing you can guarantee will happen on a majority of the Redskins defensive plays. If Jon Bostic is in the huddle, his voice will be heard.

“That’s how I’ve always been. When I’m on the field, the thing about me is that I'm always talking, I’m always communicating," Bostic said. "People always tell me I never shut up.”

Even if once and awhile people may mention that he talks a lot, it's usually mentioned as a positive. Though he's only been a member of the Redskins for a few months now, the 28-year-old linebacker's vocalness has been a welcome addition to the huddle.

"Bostic is such a great communicator. We didn’t really know that until we got him here," head coach Jay Gruden said. "How he communicates with the linebackers, and the secondary. He makes it easy for everybody that plays with him.”

Bostic's ability to be a voice on the defense is crucial, specifically for his position group. Just a few months prior at OTAs and minicamp, the linebacking core had some veteran, experienced members in Rueben Foster and Mason Foster. That's no longer the case

A season-ending injury to Rueben Foster and the release of Mason Foster has things looking a lot different in the middle of the defense. With the veteran and familiar players out of the picture, it's about new faces stepping up.

Bostic is part of that group, and seems to have embraced the challenge so far. The six-year veteran has bounced around the league, but looks comfortable with the Redskins. He's impressed since he signed following Foster's injury, and has worked his way into earning first-team reps. 

Alongside Bostic will most likely be Shaun Dion Hamilton. The second-year pro came on strong toward the end of the 2018 season, and with a shakeup in the roster he's primed to take on a bigger role during his sophomore campaign. Initially slowed down by some injuries in the preseason, he's back on the practice field, which has the likes of Bostic incredibly excited.

“It’s big," Bostic said about getting the opportunity to take reps with Dion Hamilton. "Another guy that’s smart, has played football.”

While both Bostic and Dion Hamilton are both talented individuals, the success in the middle of the defense will only come if the two mesh together. The two have some familiarity due to playing in similar systems in college, but their time on the field together has been limited to a smaller sample size.

So throughout the remainder of the preseason, a primary goal is to get more comfortable alongside one another. A task that could require Bostic to keep his lips sealed at times.

“When I’m out there, sometimes I’ll be quiet. Like at practice I’ll be quiet because I want to learn the guys next to me," Bostic said. "I want to learn how he thinks. I think that’s important, especially for me.”

Talking or listening, communication will play a big part in preparing the linebacking group for the chaos that is a snap in the NFL. The intensity that comes with each down is something rookie linebacker Cole Holcomb, another new face with new responsibilities, has quickly picked up during his first taste of pro action. 

“You gotta be fast. You’re thinking out loud," Holcomb said. “Just talking about what you’re seeing, and together we'll create a picture.”

The picture is slowly starting to come together for the fifth-round pick. Continuing to pick up new things as he goes along and keeping his head buried in the playbook and tape, he's been able to make the difficult transition less of a bumpy ride.

“Cole is very smart, that’s part of the reason why we were attracted to him in the draft," Gruden said. "He’s a very, very smart player. Instinctual player. He’s picked it up very smoothly, very effortlessly.”

In addition to studying on his own, Holcomb is another member of the linebacking corps that has made communicating a major priority. Constantly talking and listening to all the voices he can, including Bostic and Dion Hamilton, things have started to slow down. 

For a position group clouded with some question marks and uncertainty, all members are in the midst of their own personal learning experiences. Conquering those will be important, but it starts with building off one another through something as simple as talking.

At the end of the day, they're all in this together.

“We gotta grow together, keep growing together as a defense," Bostic said.  "We gotta keep learning each other, we gotta keep understanding the defense. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

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What the Redskins' offense must improve to ensure it's effective versus non-Dolphins defenses

What the Redskins' offense must improve to ensure it's effective versus non-Dolphins defenses

The Redskins' win against the Dolphins comes with a large, aqua and orange, possibly 0-16 sized asterisk.

Yes, Washington was able to notch its first victory this year, and doing that after firing a head coach and making yet another quarterback change is worthy of praise. It's also important for every guy in that locker room, especially with the chatter that was already emerging last week regarding the team possibly losing every game this year.

But still, the entire roster has to be better if it hopes to take down other, non-Dolphins opponents, especially the offense. There are a couple of areas where the unit clearly must improve to have a chance in their final 10 contests. Luckily, they aren't difficult to spot.

The first is their level of aggression.

Adrian Peterson thrived in Bill Callahan's run-focused approach, posting more rushing yards at Hard Rock Stadium than he had in total coming into Week 6. Like the first sentence of this story says, don't get too carried away (pun not originally intended but will leave it in there) because Miami is the worst run defense in the sport, but it was encouraging to see Peterson come alive and break some long ones.

What wasn't encouraging, on the other hand, were a few sequences where Callahan seemed far too content to play it safe.

The most egregious came at the end of the first half, where the Redskins got possession at their own 25-yard line with 1:07 left to play and a timeout to use. A second down Case Keenum scramble advanced the ball to the 34, but instead of hurrying up to get more snaps in or stopping the clock, the group took its time before picking up the first down 40 seconds later.

An incomplete pass and a give-up draw followed, so the Redskins went into the half with a 7-3 lead. They didn't use their timeout, they didn't push for a field goal attempt and they didn't even try a Hail Mary.

Callahan owned up to the sequence at his postgame presser, explaining he was OK with where the score was at. That mindset won't work from Week 7 on, however. Instead of accepting whatever future score advantages the Redskins have, they need to look to widen it in situations like that.

They're 1-5. Why be so conservative?

Of course, it's easier to be aggressive if your QB is locked in. Washington didn't exactly have that luxury in Florida.

Case Keenum was largely somewhat fine to fine in his return to the lineup, and thanks to a few shots to Terry McLaurin and that effort from Peterson, his return ended with a win. Afterward, Callahan named him the starter for the upcoming 49ers contest, but he has to do more if he's going to hold off Dwayne Haskins (writer's note: Haskins should be on the field by now).

That said, it may also help him if he was asked to do a little more, which ties into the first point. He averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt, which is a number similar to that of bottom-third offenses in the league. 58 of his 166 yards came on the two scores to McLaurin, meaning his other 11 completions and 23 tries went for just 108.

At some point, and likely some point soon, Callahan's beloved running game will be limited and the Redskins' signal-caller will have to make some throws and be the one responsible for moving the ball. It'll either be Keenum or, if he is mediocre again, it may then be Haskins. Whoever it is, though, he has to air it out more effectively.

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It’s been a while, but it’s time to praise Ereck Flowers and the Redskins offensive line

It’s been a while, but it’s time to praise Ereck Flowers and the Redskins offensive line

The Redskins bulldozed the Miami defense on Sunday, and it’s been a while since this sentence got written, but the Washington offensive line deserves a big part of the credit. 

For the first time this year the Redskins went for more than 100-yards rushing and Washington quarterback Case Keenum did not get sacked the entire game. 

Regardless of the opponent, that’s an impressive day for an offensive line. Add in the fact that the Redskins O-line got zero penalties called on them, and it’s quite an impressive day. 

“We really wanted to clean up the line of scrimmage penalties we had,” Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan said after the 17-16 win in Miami.

Coming into that game the Redskins were one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and the offensive line was a big part of that. A clean sheet on Sunday almost seemed impossible after a slew of holding calls and procedural flags became commonplace during the team’s 0-5 start.

“We try to stay away from holdings, hands outside the framework of the body,” Callahan said. “I thought our players were really focused and concentrated on getting that done.”

It’s also time to credit the Redskins front office for the left side of the line. Pro Personnel director Alex Santos had to really sell veteran Donald Penn on joining the team this August, and without Trent Williams around, Penn has been very important. 

There’s also the experiment of signing Ereck Flowers, a terrible tackle in New York for four seasons, and turning him into a guard. That’s working too. 

The challenge will grow significantly next week when the 49ers come to Washington. San Francisco is almost the opposite of Miami. They’re undefeated with a vicious defensive front and a high-scoring offense. 

For one week, the switch from Jay Gruden to Callahan appears to have worked. When Gruden was fired last Monday, Callahan moved quickly to change the physicality and intensity of his practice sessions and commit to running the football. It worked against Miami, barely as Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly lead a fourth-quarter comeback, but it worked. 

“When you can transfer that type of effort into the game, their preparedness, their willingness to extend themselves physically, that’s invaluable,” Callahan said. “I’m really proud of our kids and how they played today. We’ve got to get ready for a tougher team coming in here this week.”

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