ASHBURN — Redskins linebacker Will Compton kept a journal.
As he went through four of the first six games without seeing a snap on defense, Compton took notes to help deal with his journey from starting last season to being a reserve this one. Compton, 28, admitted struggling with the adjustment. He relied on a strong support staff, including texting “The Island” — a group chat made up of college friends and NFL players Ameer Abdullah, Tobi Okuyemi, Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, Josh Mitchell and Nate Gerry.
But Compton also realized that the situation wasn’t about him “as much as you want it to be.” Compton was beat out in training camp for a starting role and had to wait for an opportunity to show people what he was capable of.
That moment finally came when he played all 82 snaps in a 17-14 win against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 5. During the game, Compton came away with an interception and had chances for a few more.
“You more so want to prove yourself right,” Compton said in November. “Because I’ve always believed in myself. I know that people do too, but when you try to hone it in against you against you everyday, you want to prove yourself right.”
Compton’s redemption was short-lived. The linebacker hurt his foot the next week against the Minnesota Vikings and was put on injured reserve days later.
The injury was the type of “bad luck” the Redskins have experienced all year. While injuries at running back and offensive line have garnered more attention, Washington’s defense has suffered due to the constant rotation at inside linebacker.
Specifically, the Redskins have used five different full-time players as their “mike linebacker,” the position responsible for communicating play calls to the rest of the defense.
“It’s the quarterback of your defense, so it has an effect, unfortunately,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I’d be lying if it didn’t.”
Through the first six games of the season, the Redskins’ defense gave up only 325.1 yards per game and up 24.5 points per game.
Then, linebacker Mason Foster went on injured reserve with a rib injury.
In the six games since, the Redskins defense has given up 355 yards per game — and 27.8 points per game.
The Redskins’ defensive downfall can’t be entirely pinned on Foster’s injury. They have suffered key injuries on the defensive line, namely Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis. Washington’s defense is also still efficient, ranking 12th in DVOA, a stat that measures efficiency compared to the rest of the league.
But Foster helped cover the middle of the field in pass coverage, more so than Compton and third-string linebacker Martrell Spaight. He had excellent chemistry with linebacker Zach Brown and the two excelled against the run.
Now next to Brown, the Redskins are starting Zach Vigil — a player was who was unemployed until Nov. 15. — because Spaight has an ankle injury. Vigil, undrafted in 2015, was with the Redskins in training camp. The familiarity was there.
“We have pretty good chemistry, as far as communication and talking about what we’re seeing,” Vigil said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that so far. I think we have to do a better job of that moving forward.”
Gruden said communication from the spot is “absolutely critical” for the defense. The Redskins’ depth can only be so deep.
“We’ve got Zach Vigil who has stepped in, did a nice job to go along with [Brown], but you’d like to have a tandem there to communicate,” Gruden said. “When you’re changing all the time, it makes it a little more difficult, a little more challenging.”
The Redskins have just four games left and it’s unclear who will be at the position next year.
Brown, Compton and Foster are all free agents after the season.
Asked on Twitter if he would like to be back with the Redskins next season, Compton acknowledged the choice wasn’t necessarily up to him.
“Time will tell, boss,” Compton wrote. “I’ve learned to keep emotions out of it.”
The Redskins, according to CBS Sports, are already working toward extending Brown, who leads the league in tackles with 117. Brown signed a one-year, $2.3 million contract in the offseason with the Redskins, but has impressed this season.
Brown, however, could be risking his future by playing on a nagging injury to his Achilles. The linebacker hasn’t practiced this week and has been seen in a walking boot after games. Brown has also seen players like Richard Sherman and Jimmy Smith play through a similar injury, only for it to rupture.
“There’s always a concern, but if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” Brown said. “There’s nothing you can really do about it.”
Brown could always shut himself down for the season, especially given his contract status.
“The last two years I was a free agent so [the injury] don’t play at all into where I play,” Brown said. “If that was the case, I’d have shut it down already.”
Compton and Foster, meanwhile, will have to rehab their way back into full health in order to get a new deal. Both players have overcome injuries before.
“Adversity after adversity, I’m in the business of proving people wrong,” Compton said.
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