Cole Holcomb was all smiles in the Redskins' locker room after the Week 12 matchup against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. He had every reason to be in a good mood; the Redskins won for the first time in more than a month, and he got his first-career sack in the process.
"It was a good feeling," Holcomb said. "It was like, finally."
"You didn't get no sack, man," cornerback Jimmy Moreland said to Holcomb in jest.
Holcomb grinned before responding, "I'll give Jimmy credit where credit's due. Jimmy helped me out. He flushed [Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel] out a little bit and just made it easier for me."
Holcomb spoke the truth; Moreland's blitz did force Driskel to move in the pocket, and Holcomb was there to finish the play. But Holcomb was also doing just fine on his own.
"Cole played well," said interim head coach Bill Callahan. "His tackle points led our team and he had the sack as well. There are so many aspects where he can read, react. He works hard, he's diligent, studies, he's intuitive -- he has all the traits that you want out of a linebacker."
With all the interceptions and highlight plays that came from the Redskins' defense in the team's 19-16 victory, it was easy to forget about players like Holcomb, who has been a consistent contributor since Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles. But with a career-high 13 tackles, which led both teams, and a sack, the rookie from North Carolina quietly had one of Sunday's best outings.
For his efforts, Holcomb is one of five nominees for Pepsi Rookie of the Week, the NFL announced Tuesday. Fans can vote for these players on www.nfl.com/rookies through Friday at 3 p.m. The Pepsi NFL Rookie Of The Week will be announced Friday on NFL Total Access on NFL Network and on NFL.com.
The Redskins selected the former Tar Heel in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft, and since then he has impressed teammates and coaches with his style of play. Inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan said during the team's OTAs that he was impressed with the rookie and that he was fast and athletic.
Callahan said Ryan has done a "great job" developing Holcomb to be such a valuable contributor early in his career, especially when it comes to balancing when to help him learn the defensive system and when to simply let him play.
"They have to learn the system, pick up the install, pick up the plays, the concepts and move forward and give it to him as much as you can, and then repeat it over and over again," Callahan said. "That's where I think Rob has done a great job with him."
Holcomb had a reputation for being a strong tackler in college -- he led UNC in that category for three seasons -- and that didn't take long to manifest itself in the NFL. He had nine tackles in his debut against the Philadelphia Eagles, and his 77 tackles (50 solo) are both second on the team behind safety Landon Collins.
That ability was on display once again against the Lions. Holcomb made back-to-back tackles on the Lions' first drive of the game, and he made a diving tackle on Driskel as the quarterback scrambled for an 18-yard run that could have been longer had he not made the effort.
Holcomb was also featured in the Redskins' pass rush, which he said was an important part of the game plan against Driskel.
"We definitely had some pressures called in there," Holcomb said. "It was up to us to execute them, and it worked out pretty well."
Check out photos of the Washington Redskins during their regular season Week 12 game against the Detroit Lions.
Holcomb's sack came during a zone blitz in the second quarter. Defensive end Jonathan Allen occupied left tackle Taylor Decker, allowing Holcomb to get into the backfield unblocked and drag Driskel to the ground for a five-yard loss.
"Just having the awareness and ... the instincts of feeling out plays, knowing plays, improving in his coverage and applying the pressure that he does when he's asked to blitz, and he does those things pretty well," Callahan said.
Holcomb said working with veterans and fellow linebackers Jon Bostic and Ryan Kerrigan has helped him develop in his rookie year.
"It's amazing, he's a genius over here," Holcomb said of Bostic, who was sitting in the locker next to him. "He'll be over here singing [before a play], and then he'll be like, 'Hey, he's coming, he's coming. They're running an RPO!'"
With the win secured, Holcomb went on to worry about other things like his upcoming bet with fellow rookie Kelvin Harmon on the North Carolina-N.C. State game this weekend. The loser has to wear the colors of the opposing player's alma mater the next day.
But Holcomb knows what this game means to the fans and the Redskins organization. And even though his effort might have gotten lost among the other game-changing moments, he played a crucial role in getting a win at FexExField.
"It's a little bit of hope," Holcomb said of what the win means to the fans. "[We have to] go get some more."