As we start to get deeper into camp we can see the Redskins roster starting to take greater shape and make more accurate predictions about who is making the team and in what role. While there are a number of interesting battles for roster spots, perhaps the most intriguing is the Redskins linebacker depth chart. Now we know that Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith are the clear cut starting EDGE linebackers, with Zach Brown and Mason Foster pretty clearly set as the two starters inside. Pernell McPhee and Ryan Anderson both are pretty safe as well as back-up EDGE players, but beyond that it gets pretty murky with a number of potential options.
The first question is how many total linebackers will the Redskins keep. In a base 3-4 system keeping eight is generally considered the minimum, but a number of teams will keep nine and 10 is possible as well. Keeping 10 can be difficult, but if enough guys show special teams value and/or passing game value it’s definitely possible. Right now for the Redskins they appear to have 6 of the spots pretty firmly locked down, that leaves two-to-four open spots, with three probably the most likely. The Redskins have five linebackers who are vying for these back-up roles, which means at least one won’t make the team. Here are the five options and what they bring to the table:
-Spaight was a 5th round pick by the Redskins in 2015 and showed some initial promise in camp and preseason that year. Unfortunately his rookie year was over after one game as he suffered a bad concussion and was placed on IR for the rest of the year. He came back the next year and showed himself to be a capable special teamer and passable back-up. Last season though due to injuries he was forced into a bigger role playing 37% of defensive snaps. For the most part there was a clear drop off in his level of play from the starters, but he did flash a few times. He has the most experience with this coaching staff of the group, but he also has a more limited upside. It would not be surprising to see him get passed over by some of the newer members of the Redskins this camp/preseason.
-Vigil was an undrafted rookie out of Utah St., but he made the Dolphins 53 man roster and was active for all 16 games as a rookie, playing on 65% of their special teams and 12% of their defensive snaps. He was injured to start the next season and spent most of the year on the PUP list, after being activated late in the year the Dolphins cut him and the Redskins claimed him on waivers. Vigil played in the final two games on special teams for the Redskins and was in camp for 2017. He didn’t make the 53 man roster out of camp and signed with the Bills practice squad, after injuries decimated the Redskins ILB depth they signed him from the Bills practice squad. Vigil was a starter the last six weeks of the season and ended up playing on 36% of the defensive snaps for the year. While he clearly wasn’t preforming at the level of Brown and Foster, Vigil was a more consistent player than Spaight in replacing the starters. Though there is clear upside in the players behind him, I think he’s still got a chance to earn a spot on the 53 man roster.
-Robertson originally signed as a UDFA with the Seahawks in 2016, but he didn’t make the team in camp and couldn’t even find his way on a practice squad that year. The Redskins signed him as a street free agent last January and while he didn’t earn a spot on the 53 man roster in camp, he did earn a practice squad spot. The Redskins called him up last season late in the year and he was active for four games playing primarily special teams. He’s known for a big mistake on punt coverage vs the Giants on Thanksgiving where he ran a downed punt into the end zone for a touchback, but the team stuck by him through that gaffe. Robertson offers good height and a slight frame that gives him some intriguing speed and quickness. This allows him to back-up both the EDGE and ILB positions, though he’s a more natural inside backer. His quickness also gives him some potential as a coverage linebacker and of course helps on Special teams. He’s got a tough camp battle, but the early returns are promising.
-Josh Harvey-Clemons was a safety in college, but the Redskins moved him to linebacker after they drafted him in the 7th round last season. The Redskins envisioned him in the role of coverage linebacker that they had hoped they filled with Su’a Cravens a couple years ago, though they knew they needed to let Harvey-Clemons bulk up some. As a rookie he played more than the Redskins probably intended initially, but he showed well on Special Teams and clearly earned his spot with the team. He’s added some weight this year and he looks to be even more of a fixture with this defense and special teams units this year. It’s quite possible he’s up to third on the depth chart at ILB and might even carve out a role on passing downs on defense. It would be a pretty big upset if he doesn’t make the team, but he’s still fighting for what his role will end up being.
Shaun Dion Hamilton was taken by the Redskins in the 6th round this year, and while that typically doesn’t due much to secure a roster spot by it’s self, Hamilton isn’t your typical 6th round rookie. He has had his last two year’s cut short due to injury, but when healthy the Alabama linebacker was a stud in the SEC and a clear leader on that defense. If the Redskins were to cut him he would probably be a lot tougher to be kept on the practice squad. Given his injuries Hamilton, probably needs a year to get fully back up to speed and bulk up a little bit, but he would be a tough player for the Redskins to cut, and may be why the team ends up keeping 10 linebackers in total. These first couple preseason games will be key for him as he needs to show he’s near full health and that the can stay healthy. If he does I think Hamilton will end up finding his way onto the 53 man roster.