Among the question marks for the Redskins this offseason, the inside linebacker position gained at least a little more clarity recently when the team signed Mason Foster to a new contract. A starter last year until injury finished his season early, he returned to the team that gave him a second chance in 2015 and should play an integral role on the defense next year.
Still, the team's leading tackler from last year, inside linebacker Zach Brown, is heading into free agency. That leads to speculation. During Super Bowl week in Minneapolis, Redskins.com caught up with Bleacher Report football analyst Chris Simms, who believes it should be the team's priority to re-sign Brown based on a variety of factors.
"Zach Brown, to me, is a special inside linebacker," Simms said. "The way he's played the last two years, he has tremendous speed at the middle linebacker position and he's a three-down linebacker, and that's very important this day in age in the NFL with all the multiple personnel sets, the hurry up offense. You need guys that can go, 'Oh I can cover a tight end on this play, I can go sideline to sideline in the run game, and I can be a thumper up the middle when they want to run the power run football game.' So I would look at him as a guy of high priority."
In 13 games, Brown finished with 127 tackles, two and a half sacks and two passes defensed, impressing with his speed and athleticism. The team has other young bright spots it can look forward to seeing in 2018 – defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is one of them – continuing to develop under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's scheme.
Simms was impressed with the coordinator's first year in the role with the Redskins and further emphasized the importance of bringing in another player up the middle of the defense.
"I'm big into, when they play zone coverages, are they dropping into the right areas?" Simms said. "And I always feel like Manusky was dropping in the areas the offense was trying to attack them. But Allen, Preston Smith, [Ryan] Kerrigan, I still think you need some bigger guys on your defensive line, especially if you're going to mess with the Eagles and Cowboys twice a year. You're probably going to need to get another middle linebacker, so everything is going in the right direction."
Simms will begin to dive into his college scouting over the next few weeks as the NFL Combine comes into focus next month and the draft discussions become more prevalent.
The Redskins have plenty of options sitting at No. 13, where "you're going to get a player that's going to help out the football team and fill out the roster," Simms said. Looking at several mock drafts, already that includes quarterbacks, wide receivers, linebackers, safeties and defensive linemen.
Simms didn't provide any names the Redskins could target just yet but offered some insight into his college research process.
"I think the biggest thing you have to do with college is you have to take it all in context," Simms said. "Are they asking him to do things that are realistic for him to do? What's the team like around him? What's the team like that he's playing against? The scheme in general, to me, college scouting – stats [are] out the door. Stats don't mean crap to me. I want to look at the player, the size/speed combo, the difference he's making on the field, is he doing what he's asked to do? And is he doing more even than what he's asked to do, that's when you see special players. 'Oh, I got the A-gap if I'm a defensive tackle but, OK I got the A-gap but I saw the run go to the C-gap and he still gets there to make the tackle.' You go 'Oh, okay, he held down his gap and then he was so special to get two gaps over and make a tackle.' Little things like that you watch."