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Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?

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Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?

In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

No. 7

Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?

El-Bashir: I’m not sure you can safely say the Redskins are set at any position on defense, but I do believe they’ve got a solid, young foundation with Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy manning the position.

Kerrigan overcame knee and hand injuries to lead the team with 9.5 sacks and 46 quarterback hurries, which ranked fifth among all 3-4 outside linebackers, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Smith came on strong down the stretch and led all NFL rookies with eight sacks in the regular season before recording a sack for a safety in the Redskins’ Wild Card loss to the Packers…and he’s just starting to scratch the surface. Murphy, meantime, made some modest strides late in his second season on defense, recording two sacks and a forced fumble in December.

The X-factor in all of this is the health and contract status of Junior Galette, who missed the 2015 campaign after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in training camp. Galette is set to become a free agent, but both he and GM Scot McCloughan have indicated that the expectation is that the sides will work our a deal. The only question, then, is how healthy will he be? Galette expects to be 100-percent in time for OTAs, but there’s always some doubt until it actually happens.

If the team believes Galette, who had a combined 22 sacks for the Saints in 2013 and '14, will be good to go, then a foursome of Kerrigan, Galette, Smith and Murphy sounds pretty good. But if there’s one thing the Redskins learned last season, it’s this: because of injuries, you can never have too many quality reserves.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I believe the Redskins are in decent shape at outside linebacker. So I wouldn’t be in favor of making a significant investment in a free agent, but I’d be all for using a draft pick to bolster a premium position—especially with McCloughan making the selection.

Tandler: Although I’m generally in agreement with Tarik here, I do see some red flags that might add to the urgency of getting some upgrades at the position.

The first is Galette’s Achilles. He could be 100 percent “healthy” by OTAs or, more realistically, training camp but still not be his old self, the guy who posted double-digit sacks in 2013 and 2014. His game relies on explosion and if Galette is even a little bit less explosive his effectiveness as a pass rusher could diminish significantly.

One more thing on Galette—while I believe he was sincere when he told us that he would definitely return to the Redskins and that McCloughan thinks a deal will get done, that’s no sure thing until he actually signs a contract for 2016.

And there is no guarantee that Preston Smith will have a linear career progression. We’d like to think that his career will follow a linear progression and that he’ll add a few sacks next year. But Brian Orakpo had 11 sacks as a rookie and his total dropped to eight in his second year. We can’t rule out a sophomore slump for Smith.

But injury problems and performance declines can happen to any player at any position. It would be great to have every position stocked with top-notch players but even the best teams aren’t in a situation like that. I think that outside linebacker is in a state where the Redskins can leave well enough alone but keep an eye out for a draft-day bargain or low-cost free agent to serve as some insurance.

 

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VIDEO: Montae Nicholson and Vernon Davis return to Redskins OTAs

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VIDEO: Montae Nicholson and Vernon Davis return to Redskins OTAs

Montae Nicholson and Vernon Davis were among those absent at Monday's open Redskins OTAs session, and both absences were surprising considering each player's somewhat unsteady spot on the roster.

Nicholson's second year with the Redskins was a struggle both on and off the field, while Davis is often mentioned as someone who might be in line for a contract restructuring or even a release. 

However, thanks to a video that the Redskins posted on Instagram, it's now clear that the safety and the tight end have since returned to Ashburn to work with their fellow teammates:

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8️⃣5️⃣ putting in the work

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It's an especially encouraging development for Nicholson, who should be doing whatever he can to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff. Whatever the reason for his absence was on Monday, it's a good sign to see that he didn't stay away too long. 

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Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most of the time, if you're getting upset about an NFL player skipping voluntary OTAs, you're doing life wrong.

But if you're a Redskins fan who's a bit puzzled by Montae Nicholson not showing up to the early sessions of Washington's offseason workouts, you have a right to be.

Nicholson wasn't in Ashburn on Monday, a practice that was open to the media. There's been no indication that he's reported to the 'Skins since, either (UPDATE: Here's a video proving he has since returned, which is an encouraging sign). 

Now, this isn't a situation worth really freaking out about. Again, OTAs are voluntary, and it's totally possible Nicholson was working out somewhere else and feels that's how he'll be best prepared for 2019. 

Still, though, assuming he had nothing else serious going on, it's a questionable choice by the defensive back. And, according to Jay Gruden, it was a questionable choice he made on his own.

"Correct," Gruden answered Monday when asked if Nicholson skipping was based on the 23-year-old's decision. Gruden said earlier in his presser that he was "not really surprised" by it.

Perhaps the coach is telling the truth and he wasn't surprised. You can bet he was definitely annoyed by it, however.

Nicholson isn't an established player like Trent Williams or Josh Norman, other guys who weren't there when the Burgundy and Gold started this phase of the NFL calendar. He's a third-year safety with 22 up-and-down games to his name.

Not only that, he's just a week or so removed from the news that December assault charges against him were dropped due to a lack of evidence. You'd think someone who just learned that would be eager to get in front of Gruden and his coaching staff and try to repair his image.

After all, much of the same coaching staff who preferred to keep Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the lineup over Nicholson, even as Clinton-Dix struggled following his arrival, remains in charge.  

The starting spot opposite of Landon Collins is wide open, and of the options on the roster, Nicholson is the most talented. He also would fit nicely next to Collins, considering he's got the speed and ability in coverage when he's healthy and mentally right.

Speaking of Collins, he attended OTAs, despite the fact that he wasn't able to participate as he continues to rehab a shoulder injury. Yet there he was, involved and roaming the sidelines, encouraging his teammates and coaching up the younger DBs on various techniques and details.

One of those DBs Collins should've been coaching up is Nicholson, yet Nicholson was nowhere to be found. Plenty more reps await Nicholson over the coming months, but the fact that he wasn't there to claim the first helping of them is not the best way to start his path back into the starting lineup.

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