Inside linebacker Zach Brown has shown an athletic ability that could make him a special player in the middle of the Redskins' defense. He'll get a chance to impress as starter Saturday.
Positional depth has been a calling card for the Washington Redskins entering the 2017 season. Inside linebacker is one of multiple positions where the team has an ongoing battle for starting spots.
Mainstays Will Compton and Mason Foster combined to miss just one game last season as Compton was injured for a Week 14 matchup against Carolina. They were the top two tacklers on the Redskins, totaling 226 stops between them.
The Redskins only made the position better this past offseason, signing Zach Brown after his outstanding 2016 season. Brown's 97 solo tackles for Buffalo ranked sixth in the NFL last season, earning him a first career trip to the Pro Bowl.
Brown quickly showed the skills that have made him successful in his Redskins debut last Thursday against Baltimore, totaling four tackles, including one for a loss, in limited action. Now he'll get the chance to start Saturday against Green Bay as Redskins head coach Jay Gruden confirmed in his press conference Thursday.
"Right now, for this game, we're going to start with Mason and Zach – Mason at Mike and Zach at Mo (position) – and after that we'll see what happens, see how they perform and go from there," Gruden said.
With three preseason games remaining, there is still plenty of time for observation from the Redskins coaches. The decision, however, will be far from easy as each player possesses specific traits that allow them to be successful as Gruden explained Tuesday.
"Obviously Will Compton's very smart and has been a great leader for us," Gruden said. "He's a great communicator, which you have to have at Mike linebacker. I think Mason Foster can play both positions equally as well – Mike and what we call Mo – and he's a good communicator. Obviously Zach Brown has a great skill set for playing linebacker. He can go sideline to sideline probably athletically faster than majority of the linebackers we have. So I think the three of them all have the qualities to play, so it's just a matter of finding the right match, and who that's going to be will be determined here in the next couple of weeks."
Check out behind the scenes images from Linebacker, Zach Brown's 2017 Redskins Photo Shoot.
Since being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft from North Carolina, Brown has shown the athletic ability that Gruden has raved about throughout camp. He intercepted three passes his rookie year in Tennessee, including two he returned for touchdowns.
However, it wasn't until he left the Titans for Buffalo that he put it all together with his Pro Bowl season in 2016. Even though he's on his third team in three seasons, Brown is focused on proving himself to just one person.
"I've got things to prove to myself," Brown said. "It's more to myself than (other) people. I just set high goals for myself and I want to hit them. When I finish the game I just want to be like, 'I gave everything I had out there on that field.'"
Brown, Compton and Foster have all been fairly durable throughout their careers, but injuries do arise. The depth created by the addition of Brown, plus having Martrell Spaight and Josh-Harvey Clemons, Washington has created a luxury at a position that runs the defense.
Despite battling for the same positions, Foster and Compton have welcomed the new guy with open arms. Brown says that he learns the defense in his own way, but Foster and Compton have been helpful in learning the language of the Redskins defense.
"Just picking up the terminology," Brown said. "Most of the time I talk to them about the language and then with (defensive backs) I just talk to them about language too because you never know what new word or new concept they're coming up with for how to play a route."