- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2016

When starting linebackers Will Compton and Su'a Cravens went down with injuries Sunday, there was more than just the game against the Eagles on the line: a third consecutive loss would have all but eliminated Washington from the NFC playoff picture.

Instead of buckling, the battered Redskins linebacker corps saved the 27-22 win, and maybe the season, with a couple of unsung backups, Mason Foster and Martrell Spaight, stepping in, making timely stops and one superstar, Ryan Kerrigan, playing like, well, a superstar, with his strip-sack of rookie Carson Wentz to end the game.

Coach Jay Gruden said Monday the injuries to Cravens and Compton were not as serious as feared, and that if the two starters can’t go against the Carolina Panthers Monday, Foster and Spaight will again be asked to pick up the slack.

Compton, the Redskins’ defensive captain, has been the core middle linebacker for the entirety of the season. Cravens, the top-flight rookie of the defensive team, has essentially been the unit’s version of a Swiss Army Knife, with an ability to line up as a linebacker or as a member of the secondary.

Compton’s MRI showed a sprained posterior cruciate ligament, while Cravens is dealing with a brachialis strain, an injury to the deep muscle located between his bicep and elbow. Both players are “day-to-day, week-to-week,” Gruden said.

Compton said after Sunday’s game he was optimistic about his injury situation. Cravens was seen with his arm in a sling in the locker room.

“Initially with the lack of mobility after the game, we were concerned,” Gruden said Monday. “But we got basically good news on the MRI. Now, it’s just a matter of him getting his strength and movement back and I don’t know how long that could take.”

Gruden said he was impressed with the play of Foster, who has dueled with opposing offenses alongside Compton as a middle linebacker all year. Against the Eagles, Foster played in 97.4 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps — up from his season average of 62.7 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. His 97.4 percent rating against the Eagles reflects how much the Redskins missed Compton, who had played on 97.52 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps this season, more than any other defensive player on the roster.

But while Foster’s playing time almost certainly will rise, Gruden said it would actually be Martrell Spaight who would fill in — if Compton can’t go — as the Mike linebacker. Spaight filled in in the role against Philadelphia, and Gruden says that he was not only happy with his performance, he thinks he really settled in to the position.

“He could be our starting middle linebacker,” Gruden said of Spaight. “He did do well when he came in for Compton. He made a couple [of] big-time plays. The screen that [the Eagles] caught on a third-down-and-15, we tackled them for a gain of 12 or 13 — he got cut on the play, got up and made a heck of a play that was a touchdown-saving tackle, quite frankly. He did some good things, and I think once he got comfortable back in the role, he did well.”

Gruden sees Foster stepping in for Cravens if he is unable to go.

Mason took over, played a lot of that role there and did a great job,” Gruden said. “Mason played a lot of snaps yesterday and didn’t wear down. I was happy for his performance.”

The Redskins have the benefit of an extra day of rest and recovery before the Monday Night Football showdown with Carolina.

“It’s this time of year where we are banged up,” Gruden said. “You saw our injury report last week, and it’ll probably be similar this week. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, so an extra day of healing will be great.”

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