Over the next few weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2013 and evaluate the outlook for 2014.
This morning, we’re going to examine the situation at inside linebacker. This afternoon, we’ll take a look at a key question facing the position and the possible solution, so be sure to return.
2013 starters: London Fletcher and Perry Riley
Reserves: Nick Barnett, Keenan Robinson, Bryan Kehl, Josh Hull, Will Compton
Free agents: Fletcher (retiring), Riley, Barnett, Kehl
Rewind: Fletcher and Riley had strong efforts in 2012. Both, however, saw a dip in their production last season. By mid-season, in fact, it had become apparent that Fletcher’s seven-year stretch of dominant play in the middle of the Redskins’ defense had come to an end.
Then with two games remaining, Fletcher confirmed what many were anticipating: he had decided to retire at the conclusion of his 16th NFL season. Although Fletcher probably could have hung around for another year (or two) as a reserve on someone’s roster, the 38-year-old chose to leave the game on his terms.
Riley, meantime, had an uneven fourth season in Washington. The 25-year-old racked up 115 tackles (down from 129), three sacks and his first career interception while also playing a major role on special teams. It wasn’t a disappointment. But it wasn’t the breakout performance the team had hoped to get from him, either.
Fast forward: One of the biggest questions facing the Redskins this offseason is how they’ll replace Fletcher, a captain, potential hall of famer and the heart and soul of the unit since 2007.
Riley could slide over to the ‘Mike’ from the ‘Jack’ position, provided he re-signs, which is the expectation. But that scenario still would leave the inside linebacker corps minus one starter and very little depth on the bench.
Indeed, the position saw minimal impact from reserves in 2013. Barnett, 33, took only 70 snaps in 14 games and finished the season on injured reserve (knee). Robinson did not play a snap after suffering a season-ending pectoral injury for the second year in a row. Kehl is coming off a serious knee injury and, at 29, has only five career starts. Hull is almost exclusively a special teamer and Compton appeared in just one game.
Although it remains unclear how GM Bruce Allen intends to replace Fletcher, we can say this much with relative certainty: a second starter is not on the current roster, meaning Allen must find a impactful first-stringer as well as some depth in free agency. The Redskins would also be well served by drafting a player who could become a key reserve in short order and eventually blossom into a starter.