Commanders have failed to invest in LB options
The stubborn refusal to address this issue during Ron Rivera’s entire regime could be what derails the Washington Commanders in 2023. It is a more urgent matter than Sam Howell versus Jacoby Brissett. It is more urgent than the aforementioned offensive line. It is the looming Achilles Heel for the upcoming campaign.
Historically, linebackers have been the Swiss Army Knives on defense. It makes sense. They occupy the middle of the field in all directions and are asked to have the most eclectic skill set. The best can rush the passer, can play the run, and cover in space.
Washington’s problem at the dawn of the 2023 season – beyond a general mediocracy of talent – is that they do not have a single linebacker who has proven efficient in more than one of those three areas. They clearly do not have an adequate replacement for Cole Holcomb, the team’s steadiest second-level presence over the past five seasons.
Of the players projects to log major minutes this season, Jamin Davis could be a very effective pass rusher. One would think his length and speed would make him strong in coverage but he has not shown that yet.
Newcomer Cody Barton is very good in coverage and is a very active presence all over the field. This also rings true for the somewhat resurgent Khaleke Hudson.
But you know what none of them are very good at? Plugging running lanes. That’s what Holcomb could do. And I worry that this defense is going to miss that in a massive way this season.
During his rookie season, Davis struggled mightily trying to diagnose running plays from the middle. That is not a knock on him, because that may well be the single greatest mental challenge a defensive player faces, and assuming that a rookie with minimal college experience could do it was a major miscalculation.
Davis was constantly overrunning gaps or getting caught in the wash. I think it made Holcomb less effective because he was trying to compensate.
Last year, things got better for both players as Davis improved and Holcomb returned to his steadier tackling. But the former Kentucky star is still not proficient at this, and I saw Barton making the same mistakes – albeit in a very limited capacity – against the Cleveland Browns.
Hudson has shown some flashes of picking up sweeps and swing passes effectively. But again, the sample size is minuscule.