Signed midway through the 2015 season, Mason Foster proved to be a valuable veteran for the defense last season. Now he's ready to tackle bigger things in 2016.
When the Washington Redskins signed Mason Foster in September 2015, they simply wanted a linebacker that could add depth to the room.
After Perry Riley Jr. saw his season cut-short due to injury, though, what the defense actually got out of Foster was a productive starter that is now looking to continue his development in Joe Barry's defense. Certainly no stranger to a leading role -- he's started 59 of 70 career games -- he's excited to see what he can do with a full offseason working with the coaching staff and other players.
"I spent a lot of time working really hard trying to learn the system and learning little things," Foster said when asked about the biggest difference entering his second season in Washington. "I feel really comfortable in this defense you know where your weaknesses are and you know where you can take shots."
If he didn't feel comfortable in it last year, the numbers certainly don't reflect that.
His first start for the Redskins came in Week 13 against the Dallas Cowboys, and he recorded seven tackles with a forced fumble. Three weeks later against the Philadelphia Eagles, he posted a season-best eight stops, seven of them solo.
Jay Gruden told reporters that being a linebacker is very similar to playing quarterback. Both positions need to be able to anticipate what's coming and understand what is in front of them - on both sides of the ball.
Foster, a quarterback in high school, seems to have a solid grasp of that very concept.
"You have to see blocking schemes and react fast and both Mason and Will [Compton] do a great job of that," Gruden said. "They're very smart football players."
Last season, Compton and Foster manned the middle of Joe Barry's defense after Riley suffered a foot injury and Keenan Robinson simply couldn't stay healthy.
As their relationship developed on the field, off the field they became close, as well. That type of camaraderie is something that extends all around the linebacker room.
Check out the top 10 photos of Mason Foster from the 2015 season.
"We try to spend as much time together during this off-season," Foster said, adding that golfing was a common outing, though none of them are very good. "We try to go to linebacker dinners and try to learn as much about each other as we can because this is where you spend most of your time."
Looking around that room, there's a mixed bag of experience, but that doesn't mean there's a lack of talent. There are currently three rookies at the linebacker position, but then you have the likes of Foster, Riley and Compton, each of whom have at least four years of experience and a combined 83 starts in Washington.
"We've got a lot of talented young guys who are just like sponges," Foster said. "I've been in their shoes before so us older guys - me, Perry, Will - we're all here to help them come along and become great players and they got what it takes. But the talent in the room is incredible, one of the best rooms I've been around."
When he first joined the Redskins in the middle of the season, Foster's focus was to learn the playbook. Now with what is certainly a solid grasp of the defense, as evident by his increased role towards the end of last year, his 2016 campaign is all about taking that next step.
And that next step is eliminating the little mistakes, the mental errors. When his body begins to wear down in the second half of any given game, it's staying locked in, focused and executing what Joe Barry is calling.
"That's the different in giving up a 75-yard run, 65-yard run, and that's what makes your run defense terrible," Foster said. "It's not the little dunks, it's those big ones, those ones who are breaking off because somebody's in the wrong gap.
"Joe B. is going to have you on a good call. He's going to put you in the place to make the play, you just have to make sure you get there," Foster added.