Just one more question before we put the Jon Bostic situation to bed for the week. I’ve read a lot of “Who should the Washington Football Team sign to replace Bostic” pieces this week. I’d like to pose it a bit differently. Why should the Washington Football Team sign anyone to replace Bostic?
It’s a reasonable question. In a very real sense, Washington was already in the process of replacing Bostic before his injury. They were replacing him with Jamin Davis.
Now, that may not make sense if you consider that Washington plays a base 4-3 defense with both Davis and Bostic in the starting lineup. But that’s not really how things have been happening on the field.
Washington’s most popular defense through four games in 2021 has been a 4-2-5 with both Bobby McCain and Kamren Curl joining William Jackson III, Kendall Fuller, and Landon Collins in the defensive backfield. They have been able to do this largely because of McCain’s and Curl’s versatility. McCain can play slot corner or free safety. Curl can play either safety position. When opponents have run out extra receivers, perimeter corners Benjamin St-Juste and the recently injured Torry McTyer have been on the field.
Over the past few games, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has increasingly employed a five-man defensive front with either Matt Ioannidis or Tim Settle on the field. This has typically resulted in a 5-2-4 alignment. The trend has been clear – an extra lineman or an extra defensive back coming at the expense of a linebacker.
Whether Del Rio likes this concept or has been forced into it doesn’t matter very much. Everyone knew coming into the season that linebacker was the weakest position on the defense, and perhaps on the entire team. The Washington Football team has one steady, productive linebacker in Cole Holcomb, one talented-but-woefully-inconsistent rookie in Jamin Davis, and – now that Bostic is gone – no one else.
The other linebackers on the roster – Khaleke Hudson, Jared Norris, David Mayo, and the recently promoted Jordan Kunaszyk – have played a total of zero defensive snaps thus far in 2021. None, with the exception of Mayo, who had a stint as a platoon player for the Giants, has ever logged serious minutes on defense. Mayo, who I thought might be an adequate early down run stopper when he was signed, has shown nothing so far. The others are all special team players.
Bostic, playing out of position on the weakside, had not been performing very well before his injury. And with Davis’ growing pains in the middle, Del Rio was attempting to mix and match to get the best out of both players depending on the situation. Holcomb rarely leaves the field, but Davis and Bostic both played in a about 50% of the team’s defensive snaps. The trend was more Davis and less Bostic, and that almost certainly would have continued throughout the season. By the midpoint of the season, Bostic may well have been even more of a situational replacement.
So, if the Washington Football Team is going to play two-linebacker packages for the most part, what is the need to sign a Bostic replacement? It may even benefit Davis to just stick him out there and leave him out there. Let him sink or swim as best he can.
The need, obviously, comes if and when either Holcomb or Davis also gets hurt. The Washington Football Team has no one in line to step onto the field and play the serious minutes that would then be required.
They might get by with Mayo on early downs, but he is a liability in coverage. Landon Collins often plays close enough to the line to be a de facto linebacker, but I don’t think he could withstand playing that way all the time. Hudson, the college safety, would appear to have the right skill set to play weakside, but he has shown nothing so far. Perhaps Del Rio could cobble together enough performance from the existing pieces but I don’t think anyone would feel terribly confident with that set-up.
If either Holcomb or Davis goes down, Washington would need – not just a body – but a veteran who could step in and perform at a professional level immediately. As we all know, there simply aren’t very many linebackers like that floating around. That’s why the recently-released Jaylon Smith was such an intriguing option. His skills are clearly diminished, but he would’ve be better than anybody currently on the team. Unfortunately, Smith signed with the Packers, so he’s off the market.
Last year, when Kevin Pierre-Louis was hobbled late in the season, the Washington Football Team turned to veteran Mychal Kendricks to play crucial minutes in both the regular season and playoffs. (This is exactly what they did at quarterback when they bypassed untested rookie Steven Montez for a journeyman free agent named Taylor Heinicke who had been out of football.) Kendricks’ legal trouble (he pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2018) is now resolved and at 31, he may have some tread left on the tire. He would strike me as the obvious choice if the team chooses to bring in a veteran. However, San Francisco may ben in the process of singing Kendricks, removing him from the market.
I would make inquiries about two young vets who are coming off injuries. If either Leon Jacobs (ACL) or Vince Biegel (Achilles, and assorted other foot injuries) are healthy enough to play, either would be a solid addition. (And, personally, I would consider poaching Antoine Brooks, Jr, from the Rams practice squad and replacing Khaleke Hudson, but I admit that may be the Maryland Terp fan in me talking.)
The Washington Football Team did little to rebuild a thin 2020 linebacking corps, and Bostic’s injury exacerbates that situation. But if they can dodge another injury, his absence will not be devastating. We will all just have to stop referring to the base defense as a 4-3, and begin to calling it what it really is – a 4-2-5.