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2017 Redskins Position Battles: Defense

Posted Jul 25, 2017

With training camp set to begin later this week, Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda looks at some of the top position battles to watch on the defensive side of the football while the team is in Richmond.

With training camp set to begin later this week, Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda looks at some of the top position battles to watch on the defensive side of the football while the team is in Richmond.

In just three days, the Washington Redskins will open up 2017 training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., with plenty of position battles that will have to be resolved.

Here are some of the competitions on the defensive side of the football that will be highlighted in the coming weeks:

Inside Linebacker
The Redskins return the defense's two starting inside linebackers from a year ago in the form of Mason Foster and Will Compton.

The duo combined for 28 starts and 226 tackles, while Compton – who was selected as a defensive captain for the 2016 season – also recorded a career-high five passes defensed along with an interception and a fumble forced.

Foster, meanwhile, was at his best during the final month of the season, as the University of Washington product recorded double-digit tackle totals in three of the final four games including 17 against the New York Giants in Week 17, the most credited by the NFL to a member of the Redskins in a single game since London Fletcher recorded 20 tackles on Oct. 7, 2012.

While both return looking to build on their performances from a year ago, the team received a boost late in free agency with the addition of Pro Bowler Zach Brown.

In his lone campaign with the Buffalo Bills, Brown recorded 149 tackles – second most in the NFL – along with four passes defensed, two fumbles forced and an interception.

During offseason workouts, the trio alternated reps with the first-team defense and were even on the field all together occasionally.

One of the biggest keys for the inside linebackers, regardless of which pairing is on the field at any given time, will be how they run the defense.

All three will get plenty of opportunities to show their leadership skills while in Richmond.

“The communication between the front, the back end and everything, that’s obviously the linebackers [who] need to be a catalyst to that,” said inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti. “Those are the things that you work on this time of year and hopefully have them sharpened up.”

The Redskins also return third-year Arkansas product Martrell Spaight along with the addition of seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons among others.

A college safety, Harey-Clemons – 6-foot-4, 226 pounds -- could serve in the dime linebacker role that Su’a Cravens occupied in spot situations last year.

“I am very comfortable in it,” Harvey-Clemons told Redskins.com of the dime linebacker role. “This past year was the first year I actually played the linebacker in the dime and I fell in love with it in camp. I really love both positions and I am grateful that I am able to play both. I don’t look at it as a bad thing. I like playing closer to the line to make tackles and I also like being further back and reading the quarterback’s eyes. I am really looking forward to it and seeing how I will be used in the Redskins defense.”

Outside Linebacker
While Ryan Kerrigan remains the anchor for Washington’s pass rush having collected 58.5 sacks in his first six seasons – third most in franchise history – the Redskins are perhaps the deepest they’ve been at outside linebacker in years.

Trent Murphy is coming off a career-high nine sacks in 2016 while the team remains optimistic that Preston Smith can become a more consistent contributor in his third season.

Washington also returns Junior Galette, who is returning from back-to-back torn Achilles. In his last two healthy seasons with the New Orleans Saints in 2013-14, the Stillman College product combined for 22 sacks.

The Redskins then added Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson to the fold in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

While Kerrigan will likely lead the group in snap counts once again, training camp will likely determine how the entire group will rotate to start the regular season.

“I think outside linebacker is exciting,” said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden last month. “Once Trent Murphy gets back [from a four-game suspension], you have Trent, Preston, Junior , you’ve got Kerrigan, you’ve got Chris Carter, you’ve got [Houston] Bates when he comes back, you’ve got Lynden Trail, you’ve got a good stable of guys there. And if I missed somebody, it’s not on purpose. We have some good players, so it’s very exciting. I think we put together a pretty good team, a deep team. The whole thing about us, what we need to do is play together get on the same page. Coach [Greg] Manusky has got a new scheme out there, we’ve got some new coverages they’re working on, some new blitzes.”

Defensive Line
With Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois and Cullen Jenkins no longer on the roster, the Redskins head into the 2017 season with a new-look defensive line.

In total, the Redskins have six new defensive linemen – Jonathan Allen, Brandon Banks, Terrell McClain, Stacy McGee, Ondre Pipkins and Phil Taylor Sr. – along with two more practice squad players from last season – Joey Mbu and A.J. Francis – that will try to crack the regular season rotation.

The Redskins eased Allen, the team’s first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, into action during offseason workouts, as the Ashburn, Va., native split reps with the first- and second-team defensive units. The hope is that the decorated Alabama product will eventually take over a leading role in the trenches.

“There is a big curve here, you know, and I’m not going to throw him to the wolves,” said defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. “I have a president and a vice president and a head coach and a defensive coordinator that agrees with that idea of things. You know, everybody wants to see him walk in and sit in that spot and go. I mean we’re not going to do that. We’re going to let him learn and understand what we’re doing and then go after.”

Along with Allen’s presence, the Redskins will also have to determine which players will fill the nose tackle role with the unit is in a base defense.

Taylor, Mbu and Francis are among the current options Washington will plug into the middle of the line.

“The truth is going to come when we have shoulder pads on, and a great thing about it is how good our offensive line is,” Tomsula said. “So we will get a real good gauge on just how good we are before we have to go into a preseason game and things like that. We’ll be able to see how we’re doing against [ourselves]. When you can go against what I consider one of the best every day in practice, then, we will get a great gauge on who we are as a defensive line.”

Cornerback
Washington, of course, returns the starting tandem of Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland from last season. The pair tied for the team lead in interceptions with four while Norman settled into his new surroundings well after his franchise tag with the Carolina Panthers was shockingly rescinded last spring.

At the nickel corner spot, the Redskins believe Kendall Fuller will be much improved entering his second season. Fuller’s final season at Virginia Tech was cut short by a torn ACL. Despite being ready for training camp last year, Fuller was never quite 100 percent.

“I think his confidence in his body, No. 1,” Gruden said. “I think he feels a lot better with where he is physically and that’s important obviously for a DB. We probably pushed him a little bit too hard. He felt good, but I don’t think he was really quite his 100 percent self. He was good enough to play, he’s a tough guy, he’ll fight through anything, but I think this year he feels like the strength is back. He’s got a little bit more speed and quickness and I think you’ll see a better player.”

But Washington’s depth at the position goes beyond the trio, as the Redskins drafted Fabian Moreau in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft and Joshua Holsey in the seventh round.

Moreau is coming off a torn pectoral suffered in March, but still has the size and talent that made some evaluators consider him a first-round selection.

The continually growing Quinton Dunbar along with Dashaun Phillips are also on the 90-man roster among others.

Dunbar is only in his third season at the cornerback position after a move from wide receiver and Phillips started the 2016 season as the No. 1 nickel corner. 

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