When starting inside linebacker Will Compton injured his knee early in the third quarter, Martrell Spaight stepped in without hesitation and led the defense for the remainder of the Redskins' victory.
Called into duty early in the third quarter, linebacker Martrell Spaight shook off some nerves and quickly made an impact in the Redskins' 27-22 victory over the Eagles on Sunday.
Washington lost its starting Mike linebacker and defensive captain Will Compton near the beginning of the third quarter with a knee injury, pressing Spaight into duty as the lead signal caller in a close affair. Teammates could sense a little trembling in his voice as he relayed the calls, but after a few plays he shrugged off the butterflies.
"I was like 'calm down, take a deep breath, get the call out,'" cornerback Josh Norman said. "If you don't get the call out, put us in cover three. He got the call in, started to play, and the game started to slow down for him."
"It's always hard to step into that middle linebacker [position]," defensive end Chris Baker said. "Middle linebacker is the quarterback on the defense. He came in there and I thought he was a little nervous a little bit on those first couple plays, but he regrouped and got things together, got everyone lined up and he had a pretty good game."
Spaight recorded one tackle, but it would prove crucial in head coach Jay Gruden's eyes.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Eagles driving around midfield, quarterback Carson Wentz served a screen pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor on second-and-15. Spaight was initially clipped from below by center Jason Kelce, but the linebacker jumped right back up and made an impressive arm tackle to stop Agholor from reaching the first down marker. The Eagles couldn't convert on third down and settled for a field goal.
"He got cut on the play, got up and made a heck-of-a play that was a touchdown-saving tackle, quite frankly," Gruden said. "He did some good things, and I think once he got comfortable back in the role, he did well."
Compton sprained the PCL in his knee, which won't require surgery, and the team will monitor him week-to-week along with linebacker Su'a Cravens, who also had to leave earlier in the game with an elbow flexor. Spaight will likely take first-team reps this week in preparation for the Panthers in the case Compton can't return for Monday night.
"He could be our starting middle linebacker," Gruden said. "He did do well when he came in for Compton. He made a couple big-time plays."
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' defense and special teams in their 2016 Week 14 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles Dec. 11, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field.
Spaight said his anxiety was high when he initially saw Compton down on the field, as the realities of being the "next man up" finally hit him.
"You always think about it, but you never want that to happen, if someone is getting hurt," Spaight said. "But it happened, and I feel like it was a blessing in disguise. 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 Compton, who usually gives him a hard time and jokes with him in practice, encouraged him throughout the second half. The Arkansas product said Compton's guidance gave him a confidence boost and allowed him to stay calm and play smartly.
"Every series, I was talking to him," Compton said. "Just having a conversation, giving him what I was feeling, what he was feeling, command your huddle, stuff like that. He's a pro."
With his first real chunk of playing time down, Spaight said he was fortunate to have the experience, which is hard to equate in practice throughout the week. As the prospects of potentially starting become more defined this week, Spaight took a few mental notes of what he needs to improve moving forward.
"I feel like getting downhill is going to be my biggest asset," Spaight said. "I feel like I took control of the huddle. I feel like I did a pretty decent job in my coverage. I just have to come back this week, be focused up, no games being played, and just ready to go to work."