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Cole Holcomb 'developed an awful lot,' made strides as a leader

Cole Holcomb directs the Washington Football Team's defense during the team's Week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Cole Holcomb directs the Washington Football Team's defense during the team's Week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

There's a fair bit of pressure that comes with relaying play calls from the defensive coordinators; there's even more placed on players when their position changes on a weekly basis.

It was the situation Cole Holcomb found himself in during his third season with the Washington Football Team. Some weeks, he would be the middle linebacker; for others, he would be on the strong side or the weak side. The only thing that didn't change was the green dot on the back of his helmet that distinguished him as the one with a direct communication line to the coaches.

"I think I grew as the season went along and got more confident in that and was able to play a little faster towards the end of the season," Holcomb said Monday.

It was one of the many ways Holcomb grew as a player in Year 2 of playing under head coach Ron Rivera. Making plays was -- and still is -- Holcomb's primary concern, but in a season that required him to take a more active role as a leader, Rivera saw him take a jump in his development.

"I think Cole has developed an awful lot," Rivera said, "and has really done some really good things."

Flip-flopping from one spot to the other is nothing new for Holcomb. It's always been part of his skillset, and for a coach like Rivera who values position flex, it was an easy way to show his value as Rivera began plans for implementing a new scheme in his first season.

It's one thing to make plays anywhere on the field; it's another thing to do so while making all the calls. He took over the role once the team lost Jon Bostic to injury, and getting used to that took some time on top of a lot more film study.

"I would have to watch each play and be like, 'Okay, so when I'm playing backer, this is my play. When I'm playing dime, this will be my play,'" Holcomb said. "It took longer to break the film down, having to go through it in multiple spots, but it definitely helped me grow with that experience."

Rivera said Holcomb did have some difficulty handling the boost of control at first. It was an adjustment having the 10 other players yelling at him asking for the play. But as time went on, Rivera saw Holcomb get more settled and get more comfortable in the lead role.

A clear example of that came in Washington's second game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Holcomb finished with 11 tackles, marking the seventh time he finished a game in double-digit stops.

"I thought Cole played a heck of a football game yesterday. I really did," Rivera said. "It was good for him to work with a guy like David Mayo who really is a solid veteran player and smart guy. That really, I think helped in terms of Cole's performance."

While it may have taken Holcomb to adjust from a mental standpoint, it didn't affect his production. He finished the year with 142 tackles -- by far a career-high -- in addition to forcing two fumbles and interceptions apiece. He also finished with seven pass breakups, which was much more than the two he had in the previous two seasons combined.

There were some times when being the play-caller would help him dissect the play more effectively, putting himself in position for the tackle. There were also times when he would need to focus more on making checks to put his teammates in the right spot. Either way, how he handled the responsibility impressed his coaches.

"Cole's done a nice job throughout the year of leading, of communicating, of being productive," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

And after having the job for the majority of the season, having the role has grown on Holcomb. In terms of calling plays, he thinks he would do well playing permanently as a middle linebacker, and having the green dot makes it easier to "run the show" because he can easily communicate with everyone. However, he's still determined to do whatever the team asks of him, regardless or where it is on the field.

And from what Rivera saw, he knows that Holcomb can handle it.

"You saw Cole play even better," Rivera said. "That, to me, is exciting. We learned something."

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