If there was one thing Washington Redskins fans could point to as evidence for hope for the upcoming season, it would be its defense.
While most of the fan and media focus is on the quarterback competition, the potential strength of the team is on defense. Washington has heavily invested on the defensive side of the ball in the past few years, with three first-round picks on defense in the past three drafts, along with adding free agents such as safety Landon Collins and linebacker Reuben Foster.
With back-to-back seasons of 7-9 records, it is seen by some fans as the area that will help the team compete in the NFC East Division. However, that hope took a hit when Foster stepped on a teammate’s foot and tore his ACL during organized team activities last week. Foster, who the Redskins signed in November to much controversy, is a former first-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers and was expected to fill a need at inside linebacker. Now the team has placed him on injured reserve and is likely to miss the entire 2019 season.
“I don’t know how to process it really,” said Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden. “We’ve had some bad luck over here for the last couple years, but this one here takes the cake because this was a non-contact drill and there was really no contact involved in it. He just landed funny.”
Taking no time to fill the hole in their roster, Washington signed journeyman Jon Bostic. Bostic is entering his seventh season in the NFL and his fifth team. For a defense that finished 17th in the league in yards allowed and 18th in points per game, losing a key addition such as Foster hurts Washington’s attempt to build a top defense.
While the addition of Foster to the roster may be a moot point given his injury, he is not the only piece of evidence that this defense can improve. While most of the focus is on Washington’s first-round pick quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the Redskins decided to go after another pick in Montez Sweat.
Sweat, an outside linebacker from Mississippi State, had a dominant showing in the team’s OTAs last weeks. While many analysts projected Sweat to be a top-five pick months before the draft, he fell due to a misdiagnosed heart condition. As he continued to drop in the draft, Washington was able to trade back into the first round to select him 26th overall.
Sweat adds speed to the outside for the Redskins and serves as another young-addition to the team’s already young defensive front which includes Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis.
“I mean, I was just coming out here, just trying to reach my potential,” Sweat said after one of the team’s OTAs. “Learning the defense is the biggest part for me.”
While Sweat stood out during last week’s OTA’s, several players who were not there also stood out as well. While the offseason practices are voluntary and veterans often skip them or train on their own, several key players were not at Redskins Park last week. Among them was cornerback Josh Norman and safety Montae Nicholson.
While it is a voluntary workout, past coaches expressed the desire of having all the players together for training. Norman’s absence is not a surprise, given his secure starting position previous pro bowls. However, Nicholson’s absence was perplexing to Washington’s coaching staff.
“It’s voluntary, coaches are put in a unique situation here,” Gruden said. “You want everyone to be here, but it’s voluntary based on a CBA (collective bargaining agreement). So there is really no reaction we can have other than to coach the guys that are here the best way we can and to get them ready.”
Last year, Nicholson lost his starting job at free safety after Washington traded for Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Nicholson’s position on the team became further compromised after police charged him with assault after an altercation in Loudoun County. In May, police dropped the charges.