When Shaun Dion-Hamilton made his first start of the year Week 14 against the New York Giants, it came with large opportunity and a chance for the rookie linebacker to prove to the coaching staff that he belonged in the middle of the Redskins defense.
Hamilton's feel for the game attracted the Redskins despite the linebacker's final season at Alabama ending with a broken kneecap. The injury dropped Hamilton down draft boards, limiting his offseason work with Washington. Yet the two-time collegiate national champion out of Alabama won his way onto the Week 1 roster.
"We love the way he's progressed through training camp, OTA's, training camp and now," head coach Jay Gruden said of Hamilton. "The most important thing with him is getting his legs under him after the injury at Alabama. He's very smart and instinctual and he's made a pretty good impact for us."
When asked how comfortable he felt in Washington's defensive scheme, Hamilton said he felt he "really hit stride and really got comfortable mentally and physically," a welcoming sight as the Redskins used a "next-man-up" mentality throughout the season due to the slew of injuries that haunted the team throughout this year's campaign.
"Seeing all my teammates, seeing so many guys get hurt," Hamilton said on his worst memory of the season. "They put so much time in the offseason to prepare. Then when you just see like guys like Brandon [Scherff] go down. That guy's an extremely hard worker always first one in the building, always taking care of his body. Guys like Alex [Smith], just seeing my teammates go down is tough."
Hamilton himself has had a case of the injury bug thus far into his career as well. He broke his kneecap in the 2017 SEC Championship game, just months before the 2018 Draft, and battled through a shoulder injury late this year.
"You know, I'm a guy who's had two season-ending injuries in 11 months," Hamilton said. "I'm excited about it, cause the past two years the offseason has been rehab, rehab, rehab. But now I can finally get an offseason where I can work on my craft. Get bigger, get faster, get stronger. Things like that. I'm looking forward to it."
This offseason will surely be important as Hamilton looks to build off of his success late in the season where he totaled 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks the final four games.
Staying healthy, as well as adapting and learning his role is exactly what Gruden is looking for in Hamilton's second year.
"I think the most progress he's made is health. I think when he first started training camp, he was fresh off that knee surgery that he had at Alabama and I think you can just see him getting progressively healthier and healthier and the more reps he's gotten, his legs have gotten under him. He's a smart player, very instinctive. He's made the most of the opportunities that he's had at practice and we decided to put him in there and he's done a pretty good job."
As the Redskins now prepare for the new season, Gruden is excited about the options he has at the linebacker position.
"I think Shaun Dion [Hamilton] did some good things. I liked the way he developed as a player. He started playing more first and second downs. Zach Brown played more sub defense. His ability to run. It's not like we're totally down on Zach Brown. He missed just a little bit of time here in OTAs and training camp with his oblique and just opened the door for Shaun Dion to get more and more reps. We liked what we saw, so he played more and more. Josh Harvey-Clemons has a role in the dime packages. He can run and cover backs and tight ends. Zach Vigil does some good things on special teams. Obviously, Mason Foster I think led our team in tackles this year. There's people in that room that are good."