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Redskins Position Outlook: Linebackers make plenty of tackles, but few big plays

Redskins Position Outlook: Linebackers make plenty of tackles, but few big plays

Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017. We’re starting things off with a look at the running backs.

Inside Linebackers

Starters: Will Compton, Mason Foster

Backups: Terence Garvin, Martrell Spaight, Su'a Cravens

Free Agents: Terence Garvin, Will Compton (restricted)

Injured/Reserve: Steven Daniels

Rewind: Foster ranked first and Compton second in total tackles for the Redskins defense in 2016. Foster played in all 16 games for the Washington defense, and Compton played in 15 games. They form a duo of inteligent and capable players, perhaps hindered by the troubles of the defensive line in front of them.

Compton was hindered late in the year with a number of injuries, but Foster played well to close the season, particularly against the Giants in Week 17 when he registered 17 tackles. Coaches respect both linebackers, and players do too, as Compton was voted defensive captain. 

There is plenty to like from Compton and Foster, but in 2016, neither player delivered many big, high impact plays. While inside linebacker is not a position of need for the 'Skins, it would not be a shock if Scot McCloughan again adds to the group via the draft. In the previous two drafts, the Redskins grabbed a middle linebacker, Martrell Spaight in 2015 and Steven Daniels in 2016. 

Spaight works hard, but wasn't overly impressive in a spot start for Compton. Daniels didn't play last season, hitting the IR in training camp. Su'a Cravens also played a significant amount at linebacker in 2016, flashing big play ability, but the plan for the second-year man is to move to safety. Terence Garvin was mostly a special teams player, though most of his fellow linebackers appreciated his comedic ways in the locker room.

Fast forward: It seems likely Compton returns to the Redskins in 2017 as he's a restricted free agent, but there have been whispers that other teams might consider going after the linebacker and compensating Washington. Assuming Compton returns, he and Foster would again be the interior 'backers in 2017 unless a high round draft pick emerges. 

An improved line will help the entire defense, but particularly Compton. In 29 starts the last two seasons, Compton has produced two interceptions and three forced fumbles. Watch Compton play, and it's clear he often knows the direction of the play coming his way. Better play in front of him might lead to more turnover opportunities.

Cravens' move to safety will mean more Foster in nickel coverage. It will also be interesting to see what changes Greg Manusky makes as the new Redskins defensive coordinator. Manusky has repeatedly said he likes the players on his defense, just wants them playing with more unity and agression. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

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USA Today Sports Images

Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

Vernon Davis has long been a fan favorite in the D.C. area since his University of Maryland days. The 34-year-old is almost always well-dressed and respectful to the media. 

More recently, he has been outspoken about his interest in acting after his football career. A true renaissance man who just so happens to be a force in the National Football League. 

In April, NBC Sports Washington ran into Davis at the Team USA Awards where he was serving as guest speaker. 

He took his smooth nature to a whole new level Tuesday while vacationing in Ocean City, Md. with his girlfriend Kayla. 

Dressed in all white on the beach, Davis proposed in an epic way. 

The best motivation I ever had. #shesmyrock

A post shared by Vernon Davis (@vernondavis85) on

Check out the whole video produced below. We won't spoil it for you, but there were skydivers involved. Take a look: 

Davis will suit up for his third season with the Redskins when training camp opens July 26 in Richmond. 

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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