You might have heard it by now, but there's a lot of excitement about Cole Holcomb as he enters his fourth NFL season.
Holcomb, who the Washington Commanders drafted with a fifth-round pick in 2019, has steadily become one of the more vital cogs of the team's defense. He's been a starter throughout his career, but last year's performance (142 tackles, seven pass breakups, two interceptions and a sack) has the Commanders' coaches convinced he can be their middle linebacker.
Holcomb agrees, and he's ready to take another step forward in 2022.
"I feel like I'm gonna take control of this defense, take charge at that MIKE spot," Holcomb told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson.
Holcomb started the offseason by making his case that he's earned the role after calling the plays for most of the season, often from multiple spots in one game. While it was an adjustment, he improved his confidence and grew as a leader.
The MIKE position has received plenty of attention this offseason -- mostly focused on who will actually play at the spot in 2022 after Jamin Davis was shifted to the outside. At rookie minicamp, Ron Rivera did mention that the Commanders may look at adding a veteran linebacker at some point.
But for now, Holcomb has an opportunity to earn that role for himself.
"We thought he did some really good things, especially down the stretch," Rivera said.
It was hardly the first time a member of the Commanders' hierarchy, or even Rivera himself, for that matter, had heaped praise on Holcomb. At the league meetings in March, Rivera said the team was "very excited" about Holcomb's future because of the strides he had taken in 2021.
General manager Martin Mayhew added to that as well, saying that because Holcomb was so efficient, it alleviated some of the urgency to find a free agent middle linebacker on the market.
"He did a good job when he was in there," Mayhew said. "He kind of grew in that position last year when he got an opportunity to play some 'MIKE.'"
When Rivera and his new coaching staff first arrived in Washington, Holcomb was one of the players they inherited from the previous regime. He was raw, said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, but he had some skills that they liked.
He made improvements in 2020, but his growth was exponentially higher in 2021.
"He really played very well," Del Rio said. "In fact, a lot of guys that are getting the pub around the league, he played as well or better than [them]."
The middle linebacker role is one that Holcomb has wanted for "a while."
"I like that responsibility and taking control and being able to get everybody lined up and the adjustments that we need to make," Holcomb said.
The stability of playing at one spot should take some pressure off Holcomb's shoulders. Last season, he was required to make calls while playing on the outside, which was difficult at times. Now, he has the luxury of controlling the defense from a more advantageous spot.
"I feel like I've grown a lot in terms of being comfortable in those situations," Holcomb said. "I think I grew a lot as the year went on."
It will be a while before we get the next chance to see Holcomb making the defensive calls for the Commanders. The team hasn't even gone through its full offseason program yet, and then there's about a month before training and even longer of a wait for the preseason.
Still, Holcomb sounds confident that he can handle the role, and it helps that his coaches have been offering their full support.
"Don'ts sleep on Cole Holcomb," Del Rio said. "He's a pretty good player."