With training camp set to begin on July 25, Redskins.com will be previewing the current state of the roster, continuing today with the team’s inside linebackers.
The Redskins lost Reuben Foster to injury in May but return last year’s tackles leader, Mason Foster, and a pair of younger players looking to expand their roles this fall.
-- Zach Brown
-- Zach Vigil
-- Jon Bostic
-- Cole Holcomb
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
The Redskins’ inside linebackers group took a hit when Reuben Foster tore his left ACL during OTAs in May. The Redskins signed Foster, a 2017 first-round pick, in November after he combined for 101 tackles in 16 games with the San Francisco 49ers.
"Yeah, we move forward,” head coach Jay Gruden said in a press conference following the injury. "We have a history of having to do that at all positions, really. We do have a lot of depth at every position right now, and linebacker is no different.”
The Redskins return Mason Foster, one of the defense’s catalysts from last season. Foster led the Redskins in tackles (131) while recovering two fumbles and intercepting two passes. He was one of the main reasons the Redskins held a double-digit turnover margin in the first half of the season.
This offseason, Foster cut weight while following a strict diet, he told The Washington Post.
“I wanted to be in the best shape,” Foster said in June. “I wanted to be able to really run. I’ve played at different weights, but figured I’d just get real light. I was riding my bike and it just felt good. Especially on your joints and your feet. It felt a lot better and just stayed with the diet.”
Shaun Dion Hamilton, who recorded 27 tackles in 16 games last season, will be in contention for playing time to fill the void of last year's second-leading tackler, Zach Brown, who the Redskins cut in March. Hamilton spent parts of last season strengthening his knee, which he injured the previous year at Alabama, and he started the final four games. At the end of OTAs in June, Gruden called Hamilton one of the team's most-improved players along with third-year cornerback Fabian Moreau.
Elsewhere, the Redskins added sixth-year veteran Jon Bostic two days after Reuben Foster’s injury. Bostic started 14 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, totaling 73 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three passes defended.
Bostic started his career with the Chicago Bears, where he played with Mason Foster in 2015. He’s also played for the New England Patriots, Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts. He’s been durable the past two seasons, starting 28 games and recording 170 tackles.
"I like where I'm at," Bostic said in May. "Right now, I'm just coming in, working hard, being a leader and proving myself -- nothing short of what I've been doing since I’ve been in the league. Lead by example, be vocal when I'm out there. That's one of my main strengths is how vocal I am. And I know defenses backwards and forwards, so I only feel like that's going to help me and help the defense going forward."
Josh Harvey-Clemons will also be in the competition. He played every game last season while finishing with 22 tackles, a sack and three passes defended using his 6-foot-4 frame. The 25-year-old made many of his contributions on special teams.
Cole Holcomb, who the Redskins selected in the fifth round of this year’s draft, should also be in the mix for playing time. He led North Carolina in tackles his final three seasons. Gruden advocated to draft Holcomb, and the rookie has impressed first-year linebackers coach Rob Ryan.
“Now that I have grown into my body, I have matured a lot through this process,” Holcomb said after being drafted in April. “I have always had to beat people in through technique or through being smarter than them, but now I have the intangibles to go with it. So I really think if we put it all together I will be a really good football player."
Last December, the Redskins added Marquis Flowers to finish their season. He’s played in 53 NFL games since 2014, notching 46 tackles and 3.5 sacks. To add depth, the Redskins signed undrafted rookie BJ Blunt in April after he starred at McNeese State.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Hamilton showed flashes of his potential at the end of last season, recording 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks over the final four games.
The 23-year-old dealt with knee and shoulder injuries for parts of his rookie season. Now a sophomore, he’ll likely have a chance to prove he belongs alongside Mason Foster as the team’s primary inside linebackers.
More experienced options, such as Bostic, will also compete for playing time.
“The more experience you have, the better equipped you are to see problems,” Ryan said during minicamp. “You can help guys that way. The biggest thing is finding out about your players and then find out what message they need first. And that all comes with experience, but we have a great group of guys that love football, they work hard and they’re a pleasure to be around.”