The Washington Redskins will venture down to the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center later this month with nine inside linebackers hoping for a healthier and more stable season.
The unit is led by Will Compton and Mason Foster, the dynamic duo who finished the season as starters. Veterans Adam Hayward and Perry Riley Jr. as well as second-year player Martrell Spaight all return from season ending injuries. The team also brought back Carlos Fields, signed Terence Garvin in the offseason and added two rookies, drafting Steven Daniels and signing Shiro Davis.
ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):- Keenan Robinson (Free Agent; Signed by New York Giants)
KEY ADDITION(S):- Steven Daniels (Drafted No. 232-Overall From Boston College)
- Terence Garvin (Free Agent; Signed From Pittsburgh)
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
The inside linebacker group was a revolving door in 2015 as injuries mounted and player performances fluctuated, but by the end of the season the team had found a winning combination in Will Compton and Mason Foster.
Before the Redskins head to Richmond for training camp, check out who all is on the roster position-by-position. Today, it is the Inside Linebackers.
Perry Riley Jr. opened the season as a starter, but he suffered a calf injury against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2 that sapped his explosion before eventually suffering a foot injury that ended his season. He was replaced by Foster, who, in a whirlwind, went from training in South Dakota to starting NFL linebacker in a matter of weeks. He played the rest of the season with a serious chip on his shoulder, determined to prove he could play in the NFL.
"People acted like I couldn't play," Foster said at the end of the season. "Even if I wasn't starting or whatever type of role it was, people acted like I couldn't do it. I feel like I can still play and I think I showed that."
After having an entire offseason to study the defense, Foster will be more comfortable in the system and should improve in pass coverage, an area he has in struggled during his career.
Compton's rise was also a surprise. Robinson began the year as the starter, but he struggled to pick up Joe Barry's defense and barely saw the field by the end of the season.
Compton slid into the starting spot, making up for his lack of elite speed or athleticism by playing intelligently and vocally directing the defense. Compton has stayed loud as he takes on a leadership role on the defensive side of the ball this season.
"Yeah, I have always been someone who has fun, bring enthusiasm, work ethic, stuff like that," Compton said. "And that's never going to change. That's something I take a lot of pride in."
Foster and Compton have become nearly inseparable in person and on social media and developed a genuine rapport making plays on the field and making teammates laugh off the field. The two were voted the funniest duo in a team poll.
Veteran linebacker Adam Hayward said that the fun the inside linebackers have together helps all of them work harder.
Hayward, last year's special teams captain, prides himself on keeping practices light-hearted and making the game fun for the team. He is just hoping to stay healthy after injuries ended his last two seasons, including a torn ACL in the preseason opener in 2015.
"I'm very excited, man, because I love the group we have from the inside linebacker room," Hayward said. "I've played with Mason [Foster] since he was a baby coming into this league. He was the middle and I played outside and we played a lot of football together, so having him and seeing [Will] Comp[ton] basically get the keys to the defense – he's a smart guy and a good football player and know what we're doing, so it's exciting to watch him and those guys out there."
Martrell Spaight is also hoping to make an impression this season after his season ended when he suffered a concussion just nine plays into his rookie year. Picked in the fifth round of last year's draft, Spaight has long-term potential but knows he needs to prove he can play at the NFL level.
"I feel like it's a make or break year for me," Spaight said. "I'm coming out here just getting better day by day and learning and trying to be a great linebacker by learning from the old veterans and see what they do well and what they do wrong and try to implement it to my game so I can be a more complete linebacker. I'm really just learning how to be the quarterback of the defense so every day I come out here and every rep I take I got to be precise."
The team happily drafted Steven Daniels -- the quarterback of the Boston College defense that ranked No.1 in the nation last year -- in the seventh round. Daniels, expected to hone his skill set on the practice squad, wants to make an impact on special teams.
"Progressively, getting better every day, watching myself on film, watching my mistakes and then just understanding the playbook is what I try to focus on," Daniels said. "Once I get my responsibilities down I can lead any group. I just want to put myself in the right positions so that I know my thing and I can lead those guys in the right way."
WHAT TO WATCH:
Compton's voice will be heard as he takes on a leadership role in training camp. There will be plenty of smack talk.
Foster finished the year as the starter and should have the edge over the now healthy Perry Riley Jr., who is fighting to regain his starting role. This will be a big battle throughout training camp.
Spaight, Hayward and Garvin will look to contribute on special teams, while the rest of the unit will be fighting to do the same with the prospect of making the practice squad also a liklihood.