Redskins linebacker Martrell Spaight is basically still a rookie, but his teammates and coaches are looking for him to step up at Mike linebacker if defensive captain Will Compton can't play due to an injury.
As defensive coordinator Joe Barry explained in his press conference on Friday afternoon, linebacker Martrell Spaight is basically a rookie. The Redskins' fifth-round selection from Arkansas in the 2015 NFL Draft played in only one game last season before missing the rest of the year with concussion issues.
Despite again having issues with a concussion – Spaight missed Week 2 and 3 of this season – Spaight has played in 11 games. However, in his first 10 games this season Spaight had appeared on defense just three times, and for a total of seven snaps. So when starting Mike linebacker Will Compton went down with a knee injury last week in Philadelphia, Spaight came on having basically played one drive in an NFL game that counted.
"People talk about you're one play from being the next man up," Spaight said after the game Sunday. "You always think about it, but you never want that to happen, if someone is getting hurt. But it happened, and I feel like it was a blessing in disguise."
Thirty-eight snaps and a Redskins win later, Spaight had finally felt immersed as a linebacker at the NFL level.
"It allowed me to see the physicality of the game, see the things I need to work on and just go out there and play ball," Spaight said.
Receiving extended game action was the only thing left for Spaight to experience as an NFL player, and with 45 career snaps on defense he still hasn't even played a full game's worth. At the Mike linebacker position in Washington's 3-4 scheme, Spaight is counted on to make all of calls. He's essentially the defense's quarterback, and while he had plenty of film room experience, playing in the game is much different.
"It's been huge," Spaight said of his time watching film and perfecting his craft in practice. "I spend a lot of time with Will Compton and Mason Foster, the veterans, and they just put me up to par with everything. They see me doing something wrong, they coach me up on it. With small things, like maybe a technique or a certain breakdown take or a certain angle, and they just coach me up and I take the meat of it and just try to implement it into my game."
Of course, Compton's injury plays a huge factor into whether Spaight will receive his first NFL start Monday night when Washington hosts Carolina. Compton, who has not practiced this week due to his knee injury, is doubt. His biggest contribution to beating Carolina will likely be preparing Spaight.
"I'm very confident," Compton said of Spaight's abilities. "Spaight is a hell of a player. He's got great ability. With everybody, anybody on the team, it's about carrying your preparation over into gameday. Spaight is somebody who prepares his ass off. That's something I respect about him a lot. He's always asking questions, whether it's to myself, late texts at night, anything like that. He's always very adamant and humble in his approach to preparing for a game."
Compton also talked about Spaight playing calm and focused, something that he believes Spaight can do. But for those who have seen Spaight's excitement level on gamedays – his speeches for the linebackers are always given at peak decibel levels – it's hard to imagine how he's ever relaxed.
"I think that's going to be the biggest key," Spaight said. "I got to make sure I go out there with the passion that I have and not only that, but I have to make sure that I stay balanced and make sure the team stays balanced."
This week Compton and Spaight have been talked about almost exclusively as a pair. If Compton were to miss Monday's game, it would be his first game out since his rookie season in 2013. The Redskins know Compton's presence as the defensive leader would be missed, but the team has faith that Spaight can step in and do the job.
"I think Will has set an example and high standard for Spaight to come in here and play," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Spaight has done very good as far as taking notes in the meetings, but you never know until they get out there. He hadn't played much, but we'll have to wait and see. Like I said, we have confidence in him and I think he's going to do just fine."