When Keith Ismael was asked after Wednesday's practice about his journey over the past five months, the second-year offensive lineman had a simple answer.
"It's been an interesting year," he said.
Based on the fact that the 2020 fifth-round pick was cut, signed to the practice squad and is now getting reps as the Washington Football Team's starting center, that's an accurate description of how things have gone for him.
Washington is currently working with its fourth center after Chase Roullier was placed on Injured Reserve, Tyler Larsen was injured against the Carolina Panthers and Wes Schweitzer left the Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks. It's a lot to ask of a fourth-string player as the team is in the middle of a playoff push, but Ismael is ready for the opportunity, and he's got the full support of his coaches and teammates.
"It didn't start the way I had hoped, but it's looking up," Ismael said of the season. "I'm just staying ready. The opportunity presented itself and I got to go in there and showcase my talents."
Ismael, who appeared in five snaps this season before his 54 against the Seahawks, played without a penalty and did not allow a sack in the most playing time of his career. It earned some praise from head coach Ron Rivera, who called him a "technician."
"He plays with his hands well. He moves his feet well. He can position very nicely," Rivera said. "He's a guy that plays with leverage, so he did a nice job. You saw him ID some of the protections. That's a big thing to ask of a young guy. For him to come through and do what he did, that was awesome."
It was the result of the hard work Ismael had put in since being signed to the practice squad. He competed with himself every day and followed Rivera's mantra of putting in the right attitude, preparation and effort.
The time helped Ismael improve his consistency. He stuck to a plan of how to improve, and executed it each day. So, by the time he entered the primetime game against the Seahawks, he was prepared for it.
And while this is a positive turn for his career, he knows he's not done growing yet.
"Need to work on things," Ismael said. "Got to get better. Gotta be better than I was last. I'm just going to work on those details, work on it diligently every single day."
Should Ismael make his first-career start against the Las Vegas Raiders, he knows he'll have his teammates' support. Ereck Flowers Sr. and Brandon Scherff were noticeably encouraging him against the Seahawks, and Taylor Heinicke said he was impressed with the center after the game. Since offensive line coach John Matsko has a healthy rotation in practice, Heinicke already has a level of familiarity with Ismael.
"We had a lot of confidence in him," Heinicke said. "We knew he can get the job done. It was just him going out there and executing and I think he did a great job."
Ismael knows he'll need to produce with Washington's offensive line depth being tested once again, but having his teammates in his corner take off some of the pressure.
"The guys have my back, through and through, every single position," Ismael said. "They cheer me on, slap me on the back, give a little chest bump. I knew they had my back and I was ready to roll with them. Like they were ready to roll with me."