Rookies have more than enough stress on them in the NFL, especially ones that get a heavy dose of playing time like Benjamin St-Juste. The emotional roller coaster is a ride the third-round pick wants to avoid.
There was plenty of reason for St-Juste to be nervous during Washington's home preseason matchup against the Bengals. With William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller out, he received all of the starting reps. But that's not where he wanted his focus to be. Instead, he put all his energy in playing loose, having fun and handling his assignments.
Judging by how he consistently shut down his receivers, it looks like that approach worked out for him.
"I thought Benjamin had a good night," head coach Ron Rivera said after Washington's 17-13 win. "I thought he did some really good things, and that was a big step for him."
St-Juste has a single goal every time he steps on the field. He wants to take any mistakes that he made and build off of them. He entered the Bengals matchup wanting to be better at understanding his reads and playing off the receivers.
St-Juste got a solid test in both areas against Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins -- two of the most exciting young wideouts in the league. Washington's defense found itself backed up at its own 19-yard line after Cam Sims coughed up the ball on the previous possession, and quarterback Brandon Allen was looking St-Juste's way to get a score.
The first was an end zone shot to Higgins; St-Juste provided tight man coverage on the Bengals' 2020 leading receiver, and Allen's pass floated out of bounds. The next was on a 3rd-and-5, and this St-Juste was matched up on Chase -- the top receiver taken in the 2021 draft. Once again, St-Juste had solid coverage, which forced Chase to drop the pass.
The Bengals still managed to score a field goal, but the drive could have ended in the end zone had it not been for St-Juste.
"It comes with being smart," St-Juste said. "Earlier in the game, [Chase] ran the same slant and played it a different way. I played it a little bit more outside. Then I was like, I'm going to focus on the defense. I understood the scheme and formation they were doing so I went more inside and that's how I made the play."
Allen wasn't the only one testing St-Juste, though. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio intentionally called plays that would put stress on him and Torry McTyer to see how they would handle it. There were times when Del Rio wanted them to play softer on the edge in short yardage situations. That doesn't normally happen, but St-Juste understood the logic behind it and adapted to the sudden change.
"It's preseason," St-Juste said. "He's trying to see what he can work with, what he can change. So, it was great."
St-Juste handled both situations well enough on his own, but he also has some stress relievers in Washington's defensive front that can provide help if he needs it. The defensive line recorded a sack and two quarterback hits Friday night, and the more the group can rush signal-callers, the less time he has to spend covering receivers.
"If they get to the quarterback, get sacks and put pressure on him," St-Juste said, "that makes the job easier for me and all the DB's, so I love it."
St-Juste has a lot thrown at him, literally and otherwise, over the past month. It would be easy for him to be overwhelmed by that, but he's held his own against opponents' better options and some of Washington's best pass-catchers in practice. Certainly his athletic ability plays a role in that, but his calm, intelligent approach to his situation is just as important in reaching his potential.
"I think he is going to continue to grow and get better," Rivera said after practice on Aug. 16. "I think he is just scratching the surface because of his skillset and because of his length and size. He is a different type of corner and I have said this before."