When the Washington Redskins selected safety Montae Nicholson in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, they gained a player that had a strong combination of aggression and athleticism.
However, after having surgery on his shoulder just before the draft, Nicholson spent most of the offseason rehabbing before being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list late into the Redskins' training camp. This forced Nicholson to establish on-field chemistry with his teammates with only a few weeks before the regular season. Of course, this is a massive challenge for any player in the league, let alone for a rookie.
Unfortunately for Nicholson, the injury bug just couldn't seem to leave him throughout his rookie season as he dealt with multiple issues that ultimately led to him being placed on Injured Reserve in mid-December.
As this offseason has progressed, though, Nicholson has resumed practicing and is preparing for his second season. Despite playing just in eight games last year, Nicholson isn't selling himself short.
"There's already a lot more expected of me from myself," Nicholson said. "The pressure they're applying is not really anything new to me. But they do expect more out of me and I expect them to give what they expect."
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, who has sung Nicholson's praises this offseason, said that having on-field reps this time of year is critical for his progression.
"You know, last year was a great test for him," Gruden said. "We just got to sprinkle it in and saw him play and what we have thoughts for his athletic ability, and now it's a matter of him learning the system and communicating. The comfort level you see from guys year one to year two, especially the safety position because so many things change – trying to disguise and coming down, playing a hole, playing post, playing box, whatever it is – there's so many different nuances to your technique that you have to learn, and the more he gets comfortable, his athleticism is as good as there is a safety in the NFL. So mentally, once he gets it down, we have great faith that he's going to be an excellent player for us for years to come."
Here's photos from the Washington Redskins OTAs practice that took place Wednesday, May 30, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park, presented by Loudoun Economic Development.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky also noted that he's seen a difference in Nicholson's speed and reaction time along with his ability to communicate with his teammates.
"From a communication [standpoint], that second year, those guys usually start to, 'OK, I understand what I'm doing,' then all of the sudden they have got to understand what exactly the offense is trying to do against him," Manusky said. "He's been doing a great job. Across the board, I think the communication has been great. I think I'm the proudest of those guys putting in the time in the meeting rooms and going out there and actually successfully making us better as a football team."
In a division with three established starting quarterbacks, Nicholson's development will be vital to the Redskins' success. However, he understands that there's more to it than just his own growth.
"I just want to take my game to the next level," Nicholson said. "At the same time, the game we play isn't personal. When it comes down to it, I just want to be better for my teammates so we can go where we want to go."
Nicholson placing large expectations on himself is exactly what Redskins fans want to hear from him at the start of Year 2. He's willing to put in the extra work to push this team to its full potential.
"I'm really not a big vocal person," Nicholson said. "I just want to lead by example. Last year, there was some stuff that got in the way. But this year, I plan on trying to apply that to my game and the way I carry myself."