As with any seventh-round pick, the rules were simple for cornerback Christian Holmes: work hard, learn as much as possible and try to carve out a role on the team.
Holmes, the 240th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Washington Commanders last April, did all three during his rookie season, and the bright spots he showed throughout the season provided a glimpse into what could be a bright future.
Whether it was because of injuries or trades, the Commanders needed their depth in the secondary to step up at various points of the season. Holmes was thrust into that position on top of managing his own duties on special teams, and though it was not perfect, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy held his own against opposing wideouts.
As he heads into his first full NFL offseason, Holmes has plenty of experiences to learn from.
"I felt like I developed as a player, learned how to be a pro," Holmes said during the team's locker room clean out.
Washington's cornerback room was not exactly crowded, but with players like Kendall Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste and William Jackson III (who has since been traded away to the Pittsburgh Steelers) at the top of the group, immediate playing time was going to be hard to come by for Holmes.
So, the rookie needed to rely on his skill set and opportunities that he had available to stand out. That started with the traits that persuaded the Commanders to take him with their last draft pick, which included his quickness, speed and physicality that helped him get All-Big 12 Second Team honors in 2021.
"He's a raw talent that does have some man skills about him and some opportunity, I think, to show what he can do," Ron Rivera told Julie Donaldson in May.
But chances to use those attributes were in short supply in the Commanders' secondary. He appeared in relief for players from time to time, and he often had to change up his playing style to fit those roles.
"They needed me just to do my job, do my one-eleventh, try to...do my best to hold my own until those guys [starters] are back available," Holmes said.
Where Holmes learned the most was on special teams, where he worked as a gunner for 323 snaps over the course of the season. Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew told him to commit to the role, and the results would show themselves in time.
It was frustrating at first, but as the season progressed, Holmes saw the growth.
"Once I realized I just gotta do my job, it's going to help me in the long run," Holmes said. "And now that I see that, it actually really did … I just came out there did my part. I really don't feel like I'm doing anything special. I'm just making the plays when they come to me."
And plays did end up coming Holmes' way. He made 12 tackles in 2022, but his most impactful plays came from two fumble recoveries off muffed punts. The first put the Commanders in position to beat the Chicago Bears, and the second gave his team the ball deep in Dallas Cowboys territory during the season finale.
"Kendall Fuller always told me, 'Just finish the play,'" Holmes said of his second fumble recovery. "You never know what can happen. We've seen Darrick Forrest catch a lot of interceptions just running to the ball."
Clearly, that mentality worked, because once St-Juste suffered a sprained ankle and had to miss two games, the coaches decided to give Holmes the start in his place. Holmes' performance was mixed in the two-game stretch; he allowed one reception for one yard against the Atlanta Falcons and gave up four receptions for 73 yards against the New York Giants.
Still, Rivera was pleased with the overall progress Holmes made throughout the season.
"He's a young guy that shows some promise, especially on special teams," Rivera said. "He was a tremendous contributor there for us."
Holmes is his toughest critic. He said he "left plays on the table," but he was able to learn from those experiences. And as he enters the offseason, he has a solid foundation for how to prepare for Year 2.
"It was good that I got out there," Holmes said. "I felt comfortable. It let me know I belong in the league. Just playing against top tier guys...it left me real confident."