The Washington Commanders have been in need of a middle linebacker, and while the search continues, the answer may already be on the roster.
Last year, it was Cole Holcomb who stepped into that role after Jon Bostic suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Holcomb ended up having the best statistical year of his young career with personal bests in tackles (142), pass breakups (7) and interceptions (2).
Holcomb said after the season had concluded that he feels like he could hold down the position long term, and it sounds like he may be given that chance.
"I feel really good about what he's done," Ron Rivera said of Holcomb at the league meetings in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday. "We're very excited about Cole's future for us."
Holcomb, a former fifth-round pick, has been a key piece of the Commanders' defense since his rookie season. He was second on the team in tackles during his rookie season, and he's made strides ever since.
"I think Cole has developed an awful lot," Rivera said during the 2021 season, "and has really done some really good things."
After Bostic was ruled out for the year, Holcomb had to get a firmer grasp on being a leader for the unit. He wore the green dot, which signifies that he relays the plays to the rest of the defense from the coordinator, while changing positions on a weekly basis.
It took some time, and plenty of film study, to get a hold on the increase in responsibilities, but eventually, the game started to slow down for him.
"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 during his exit interview. "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."
His performance earned some praise from defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who said Holcomb "did a nice job throughout the year of leading, of communicating, of being productive." And when the coaches began to evaluate the current players on the roster, Holcomb was one who consistently stood out.
"He's a guy that we really are pleased [with]," Rivera said. "You look at the way he played down the stretch … When we really had the chance to sit down and say, 'Look at what he's done, look at how he's developed,' that's pretty good."
Holcomb has expressed that while he will do whatever the coaches ask of him, he is interested in owning the middle linebacker position long term. He believes he would do well with the role, and from a statistical perspective, his numbers add credence to that. As the middle linebacker last year, he led the team in tackles by a wide margin. What's more, his position flexibility makes him an ideal fit for what Rivera wants from his players.
At the very least, general manager Martin Mayhew knows Holcomb can handle it.
"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.' We'll see how it plays out. ... Cole's an option for us."
Washington does have some options in terms of finding another middle linebacker. There are several veteran free agents who have proven themselves, and with the Commanders picking 11th overall in the draft, they should be able to take the player they deem to be the best at the position.
Mayhew also said that "there's not a tremendous urgency to go and do something right there." After seeing how Holcomb performed, it's easy to see why.
"You saw Cole play even better," Rivera said. "That, to me, is exciting. We learned something."