“Next man up.” That is the harsh reality and mindset of the NFL, along with their athletes and coaches. For the Redskins coaches, players, and fans (most fans), Reuben Foster represented the tone-setting culture that Washington is trying to establish for years to come. He went through a lot over the past year, and after his legal troubles were finally put behind him, coaches and his teammates were looking forward to Foster redeeming himself on the field. Now, that is on hold. Everyone involved now has to wait to see what Foster, if anything, can bring to the table a year from now. The Redskins have a season to play in 2019, and they need to evaluate who on their roster is capable of playing significant snaps for them defensively.
Familiarity is the safest route at this point
Mason Foster may not be the most popular linebacker within the fan base, he still has value to this Redskins team. Foster is a veteran linebacker with a ton of game experience that cannot be stripped away from him. He is a leader on this defense who excels as a tackler and in run defense. Foster is most effective on first and second down; however, he is not a player that coaches should trust to play all three downs or in obvious passing situations. Foster understands the defensive concepts in addition to being able to call the defense, and it is just difficult for rookies or inexperienced players to take over and be just as effective in the duties Foster takes on.
Will potential outweigh the familiarity of Mason?
It was likely that, before Reuben’s injury, Shaun Dion Hamilton could have legitimately challenged Mason Foster for his position during summer and training camp. However, with Reuben gone now, the duo of Shaun and Mason is much more of a possibility. Shaun started the last four games for the Redskins in 2018, providing him with some valuable playing time to carry over into his second season. During this period up until week one, Dion Hamilton will need to show coaches that his development is progressing and not stagnating, or even regressing. He must prove himself in the reps he receives in practices and games, and he will need to show he has the strength to consistently take on offensive lineman , and is also capable of defending the pass.
Josh Harvey-Clemons has a specialization in nickel and dime situations for this defense. However, is he at the point in his transition to linebacker, which should be complete now, where he can compete for a full-time role? Harvey-Clemons can cover ground with his speed, and will also be a true asset in pass coverage. Josh needs to show coaches that he is strong enough to handle the fight in the trenches without getting bullied. He has bulked up and should be fine from my point of view, but it’s time to show it.
Lastly, Cole Holcomb is the newest addition to the Redskins ILB group. While he is a rookie, the injury to Reuben creates a potential spot for him in the linebacker competition.
For those not familiar with Cole, he has some of the tools necessary to start in the NFL; he is a physical linebacker with very impressive recognition and play diagnosis skills. However, he must show he can finish plays on a more consistent basis, and improve on his play speed through being decisive and committing to what he sees.
The most likely primary duo at this point will be Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton, but can any other combination get the job done? Possibly, but time will tell very soon.