Darrick Forrest was a nonfactor for the Washington Commanders during his rookie season. That is not a knock against him; he was on Injured Reserve for half the season, and he was mostly a special teams player after he was activated while he learned the nuances of the defensive scheme.
One year later, Forrest has become an integral piece of the Commanders' secondary, and it is a testament to how hard he works off the field to make sure he is ready for game days.
"You've seen him take that step forward on the mental aspect of the game," said coach Ron Rivera. "He's a very bright young man. He's very eager, he practices the right way. He wants to see it and walk through it. If he's wrong, he wants to see it again."
Forrest has been rewarded for his jump in knowledge since his rookie season ended. It first showed up during OTAs and minicamp, and that led to him appearing in at least 44% of the defensive snaps through 10 games. Pro Football Focus has tracked his progress as well; he has the third-highest overall grade (81.7) and the best cover grade (84.8) among all safeties by the analytics website.
Most players experience a jump in their second season, but the reason why Forrest has taken such a drastic step forward is because Rivera said he is "very conscientious" about understanding how to play techniques in coverage.
"They're not necessarily overly advanced and complicated, but yet they still require you to think on the run," Rivera said. "And he's been able to handle that pretty good."
Take a look back at the best photos from the Washington Commanders' Week 10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders
The extra attention to detail is what helped him secure his two turnovers against the Philadelphia Eagles. Based on the routes Philadelphia was running before Quez Watkins' fumble -- two drags routes underneath -- that told him that he needed to get vertical. He barely missed making the play on the ball, but because of his effort and hustle, he was there to recover the ball.
"That was an example that he's got to do something on the fly," Rivera said. "He sees it happen and 'bam', his instincts take over and he makes the break that he's supposed to."
Forrest has played a critical role in the defense's turnaround over the past few weeks. The Commanders had one of the worst units against the pass in 2021, and now they are in the top half of the league. Forrest cannot be credited with all of that, but it is clear that the trio of him, Kam Curl and Bobby McCain are all playing at a high level.
If Washington wants to keep its playoff hopes alive, it will need Forrest to continue that upward trend.
Here are some notes from Thursday's practice.
-- Cole Holcomb did not participate in practice once again on Thursday, which means that his status against the Houston Texans is in doubt. However, it was still a positive day for Holcomb, as he was in uniform stretching with his teammates for the first time in weeks. He did work with the trainers to the side with the rest of the injured players, and while it is disappointing that he did not go through positional drills, the fact that he was on the field is a positive sign for him.
-- Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio also had praise for Forrest, saying that he "has shown he's got a nose for the ball." Forrest, who has two interceptions and a fumble recovery, leads the Commanders in turnovers.
"He's a physical guy. He'll come down and really lay the wood. He's active in the back end, so he's played well for us."
-- Curl has always been an impressive, intelligent player, but Del Rio has seen the former seventh-round pick continue to grow over the past three seasons. Curl, who has an overall PFF grade of 82.6, is the second highest-graded player among all safeties.
"We use him in a lot of different positions, a lot of different roles, and he's able to handle that," Del Rio said. "Part of that is because he is bright and so he's been an important piece for us."
-- Offensive coordinator Scott Turner did not know that Brian Robinson received 26 carries until after the game, but he said it was "really cool" to see Robinson have such a pivotal role in the victory.
"There wasn't anything flashy about it," Turner said. "Obviously [he] got in the end zone, [that] was a hell of a run and effort. [I] Talked to those guys about being physical and setting the tone. He really led the charge with that, so that was good to see. I think as he keeps running the ball the way he does, I think his vision will keep getting better and better and you're gonna see some bigger runs come out of that."
-- Taylor Heinicke has committed at least one turnover in the past four games, but he has a knack for bouncing back quickly. Turner has a simple answer for that: he has a short memory.
"I mean, he's a confident guy," Turner said. "He understands like a lot of good players that, you make a mistake, you move on, don't let it affect you. And he does the same when he has a big play positively. You move on to the next play. You never get too high, never get too low."