Warrick Holdman has an edge at winning the weak-side linebacker position, but Chris Clemons and rookie Roger McIntosh are "breathing right down his neck," assistant head coach Gregg Williams said on Saturday.
Williams, who spoke to the media following mini-camp practice, labeled the competition for playing time at weak-side linebacker as "tremendous."
Clemons and McIntosh are continuing to establish themselves and work themselves into defensive packages, but it is Holdman who has the most experience as an every-down NFL linebacker, Williams said.
"All of those guys have to prove themselves to get into a package," Williams said. "We have 24 packages as a defense right now. We want to make sure that they compete for a spot in whatever package we're in. Right now, for an every-down [weak-side] linebacker, Warrick has the edge."
Williams also praised Holdman's off-season work.
"Warrick has done a very good job in our strength and conditioning program," Williams said. "This is the first year he has had a chance to have a full offseason with us. His [quickness] right now, without the pads, is excellent."
Holdman, a seven-year veteran, played in 14 games and started seven for the Redskins last season. It was his first year in Washington after five in Chicago, the team that drafted him in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft, and one in Cleveland. In Chicago, he worked with both Dale Lindsey and Greg Blache, his current coaches in Washington.
Holdman recorded 38 tackles and one fumble recovery last season. He started the first seven games, but he struggled in run defense and was taken out of the starting lineup once LaVar Arrington was fully healthy. Arrington has since moved on, signing with the New York Giants.
McIntosh, the Redskins' second-round draft pick (35th overall), underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week. He is expected to be fully healthy by the start of training camp in late July.
Before the surgery, McIntosh had made an impression on Williams, who has always been reluctant to give significant playing time to rookies.
"Last week [during OTAs], the light went on for Rocky McIntosh and he was really having some great practices," Williams said. "He did about three or four things last week that was the best of any linebacker I've had since I've been here. Hopefully the game is slowing down for him right now."
Clemons, a third-year player, has shown improvement each year in the NFL, but he has played mostly as a pass-rushing linebacker, coming in on third-down situations.
Clemons will need to improve in run defense and on special teams to earn more playing time at weak-side linebacker, Williams said.
"He has shown he can rush the passer," Williams said. "He has been able to flash and do that. He has to be stouter against the run and he has got to make more plays on special teams."
Williams also mentioned Robert McCune as an option at weak-side linebacker. McCune worked mostly at middle linebacker last season, backing up Lemar Marshall, but he has spent the offseason learning the weak-side position. His versatility and special teams experience could be a key when Williams and Lindsey determine roster spots at linebacker.