Unlike last season, the 2018 Redskins inside linebacker corps didn't suffer any season-ending injuries. Mason Foster and Zach Brown began the season as starters, and eventually rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton worked his way into the rotation near the end of the year.
Josh Harvey-Clemons played another limited role in dime packages while contributing to special teams, where Zach Vigil played all of his snaps.
Here's a look at the unit's season:
Review of the unit:
It was a tale of two halves for the Redskins defense this season, one that hinged on quarterback Alex Smith's injury and the team's struggle to recover in the wake of his absence.
"It was tough man, to see a leader like that, a captain, great guy get hurt in that type of way where his leg is all messed up," Foster said. "But at the end of the day it's football, man, we've dealt with that here before. Just gotta keep going, but definitely felt like it knocked the wind out of you when you see something happen to a great guy like that. But we gotta be able to keep playing through that."
Through the first eight games, Washington took advantage of being near the top of the league in time of possession and was opportunistic on defense, winning the turnover battle and holding a double-digit turnover margin. Gaining early leads also helped shut down opponents with strong run games, and the Redskins dominance could be attributed to those factors.
The inside linebackers played a strong part of that success.
After missing most of the last year with a shoulder injury, Foster returned as the Mike linebacker and finished with the seventh-most tackles in the league with 131.
Foster collected one sack, six passes defensed and two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, playing a large part in the team's turnover success.
Brown finished the season with 96 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles, an overall slight drop from recent years. His snap counts declined near the end of the season as head coach Jay Gruden preferred to give Dion Hamilton some substantial opportunities for the final couple of games.
When asked at the end of the season how he felt physically, Brown explained that he'd been playing most of the year with a torn oblique and probably should have sat out, saying it was "painful every day." Still, Pro Football Focus gave him the highest defensive grade (89.2) on the team this season.
"I've got to go back and look at the film and criticize myself," Brown said. "There's always things i can get better at, just got to make sure things...just got to get little things right."
Dion Hamilton showed promise near the end of the season and took advantage of his opportunities. He played in all 16 games but started the last four, where he recorded 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the final quarter of the year.
Throughout the year he made progress on his knee, which he had injured the previous year at Alabama, and was still strengthening it to get it back into shape.
"Oh yeah, I definitely did," he said about feeling stronger as the year progressed. "It's crazy like how it was by the time OTA's were and then to now end of the season, I really hit stride and really got comfortable mentally and physically."
Harvey-Clemons played all 16 games for the first time in his young career, combining for 22 tackles, a sack and three passes defensed in a limited role. Vigil didn't play a single snap on defense in 2018, but played the second most snaps on special teams, combining for 10 tackles. PFF ranked him the fourth best tackler on the team.
The Redskins have everyone in this group under contract for next season except for Vigil, who will be an unrestricted free agent. However, the Redskins could still make changes to the unit depending on their hits to the salary cap and what they'd like to risk.
The team also claimed Reuben Foster off waivers, but his future is unknown. He's still on the Commissioner's exept list and could face suspension from the league.
When Gruden was asked whether inside linebacker was a position of need for the Redskins this offseason, he didn't give a definitive answer.
"Yeah, we'll see. We'll have to evaluate that again," Gruden said. "I think Shaun Dion [Hamilton] did some good things. I liked the way he developed as a player. He started playing more first and second downs. Zach Brown played more sub defense. His ability to run. It's not like we're totally down on Zach Brown. He missed just a little bit of time here in OTAs and training camp with his oblique and just opened the door for Shaun Dion to get more and more reps. We liked what we saw, so he played more and more. Josh Harvey-Clemons has a role in the dime packages. He can run and cover backs and tight ends. Zach Vigil does some good things on special teams. Obviously, Mason Foster I think led our team in tackles this year. There's people in that room that are good, but you're always looking to improve your team."
After the final game of the year, as he cleaned out his locker, Foster expressed his desire to stay in Washington, the organization that gave him another chance in 2015 and has kept him since.
"You never know what to expect," Foster said. "It's the NFL, it's a big time business. You just take it one day at a time, one play at a time, one hour at a time. We'll see what happens, you know there's going to be changes stuff changes all the time. I love this game, I love being here. Everybody in this locker room is dope. You just take it one day at a time and see where you end up."
Brown had similar desires, though he's also expressed frustration throughout the year regarding playing time.
"Hopefully I am [here]," Brown said. "Right now the plan is to wear it, I'm still under contract so yeah. Fifty-three in burgundy and gold is always a good thing."