"Intriguing." "Interesting." "Curious."
Brian Baker — the Washington Redskins' outside linebackers coach — kept repeating those words Thursday after practice.
They describe his feelings about linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat, who was promoted -- for the second time this year -- to the active roster this week for the final two games of the season. Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles will be his first extended test at the professional level.
"There's always a sense of urgency when you know that you can be out there, be on the field," Jeffcoat said. "There's definitely a big difference now, there's a big sense of urgency."
The promotion, like the last several months, is still new territory for Jeffcoat. In his senior year at the University of Texas, he earned All-American status, was named the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and won the Ted Hendricks award, given annually to college football's best defensive end. But things didn't go as planned after the season.
This past May he went undrafted. He later signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason but was cut weeks later. He thought the Redskins would hand him a similar fate last week.
Jeffcoat received a call from a familiar team number and, like recently-promoted fellow running back Chris Thompson, expected the worst. Later, checking his voicemail — "Give me a call, I've got good news" — negated those worries. Now, he's hoping to sustain head coach Jay Gruden's validation.
"[It's] extremely rewarding," said Jeffcoat, who knows he'll have to impress coaches on special teams before anything else. "All of us are working hard, and I'm not saying that I'm the one who deserved it — there are a lot of guys on the practice squad that grind their butts off — but I'm blessed to be bumped up and be able to help."
Still, Baker isn't exactly sure what he has in Jeffcoat, who is still transitioning from defensive end to standing up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. As a practice squad player for the last couple of months, the linebacker has rarely played in full pads and hasn't had the opportunity to be competitive. Most of what still intrigues the coaching staff is the collegiate highlight reel and pedigree Jeffcoat brings with him from Texas.
"Outside linebacker is tough in our system because of the things we ask him to do," Baker said. "You have to know coverages, you've got to be able to rush, you've got to know your run fits and all that kind of stuff. [Thursday] was his best day so that's good. Anytime kids improve, as a coach, it's easy to get excited about."
Competing at the NFL level out of college is a difficult task for any first-year player, but Jeffcoat has had to make some extra adjustments. Not being present for the Redskins' OTAs or training camp delayed some of the learning curve that Baker says is essential for young players, especially when learning the linebacker position and the defensive philosophies it requires.
"Ideally, what you'd like to do is have him finish the season on the practice squad, get him bigger and stronger, and have a chance to work for an entire year," Baker said. "He's just got to go out there and play to the best of his ability putting together the knowledge that he has and the things that we've taught."
In some ways the next two weeks will provide Jeffcoat a live platform to audition for 2015. If he continues to play "fast," "physical," and "aware," traits Baker will be scouting, the late season promotion will only help Jeffcoat in his pursuit to start in the NFL.
"These two weeks are big for him," Baker said. "There's no doubt about it."