Laying out three paths for the Commanders at middle linebacker


The Commanders addressed wide receiver, the interior of their defensive line, running back, safety, quarterback, tight end, the interior of their offensive line and cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft

Earlier in the offseason, Washington signed a guard and a defensive end, and since the calendar flipped to May, the club has picked up another guard and a special-teams-focused pass catcher. 

That leaves linebacker — specifically middle linebacker — as one of the few positions Ron Rivera hasn't bolstered up to this point, and considering how that key section of the defense performed in 2022, that's an interesting development.

2021 first-round pick Jamin Davis never got going in his rookie campaign, and the team's early experimenting with him at the middle spot seems to have convinced Rivera to deploy Davis on the outside in the future.

Once Davis stumbled and Jon Bostic went on injured reserve in October, Cole Holcomb saw the majority of the work in terms of leading the unit. Holcomb performed admirably, but that's not really his natural fit, either. 

So, in the final couple of games of the regular season, Rivera turned to journeyman veteran David Mayo to play the "Mike," which demonstrated how thin the Commanders were in the fall and winter.

And yet, the franchise hasn't made a significant lineup change in the time since Week 17. So what gives?

With about four months until Washington suits up, it appears the organization has three choices for the heart of its defense: forge on with the known names currently on the roster, hope that one of its undrafted finds comes from the periphery to contribute or pluck someone off the open market.

Back in March, Martin Mayhew delivered a strong endorsement of the first route as he complimented one player in particular.

"We feel like Cole Holcomb has a chance to go in there and play 'Mike' for us, so there's not a tremendous urgency to go and do something right there," the general manager told reporters at the NFL's annual meetings in Florida. "Cole's an option for us."

Those quotes from Mayhew and the confidence in Holcomb could be legitimate, or that assessment might've been made so the front office and coaching staff can go to Holcomb if they're unable to identify anyone better and act like that was the plan all along. Holcomb, who's heading into his fourth pro campaign, is definitely ascending, but Rivera has previously admitted he'd be better off on the outside like Davis.

Aside from Holcomb and the other established guys on the depth chart, the Commanders did recently ink Idaho's Tre Walker and Notre Dame's Drew White, two college linebackers who weren't selected in the past weekend's draft. Though banking on one of them to out-of-nowhere pan out and really create an impact isn't exactly advisable, there are examples of unknown signees surviving cuts and then contributing.

Perhaps the best, and most likely, way for Washington to improve its middle linebacker situation is to scoop up one of the vets that are available to them.

As Rivera explained following the draft — and as the acquisitions of Trai Turner and Alex Erickson indicate — he's not done tinkering with his team. That tinkering could continue if he's drawn to the likes of Joe Schobert, Anthony Barr, A.J. Klein (an ex-Carolina Panther), Dont'a Hightower and a few other out-of-work defenders like that.

Of course, if any of those players were super-appealing starters, they'd already be in someone's uniform. Even so, they could represent an upgrade for Rivera, or at the very least slide in as another rotational piece who can free up Holcomb and Davis a bit.

It's necessary to acknowledge that there is some level of scheming that can be done to hide the lack of a true "Mike," by the way, and a handful of sub-packages that don't require one at all. Shutdown corners, versatile safeties and disruptive linemen are all more integral in today's NFL, but still, it obviously isn't ideal to be weak at the center one's defense.

There's no such thing as a perfect offseason, as there simply isn't enough money and aren't enough draft picks for a team to fill every need. For the Commanders, middle linebacker looks like a place that'll only receive minor touch-ups, if that. Whether that's a major mistake or not will be pretty easy to evaluate come September. 

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