Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is eager to see what 21-year-old safety Montae Nicholson can achieve with more playing time this year.
With the Washington Redskins seeking better play from the secondary – particularly out of the safety position – this season, the team had a series of offseason moves including the signing of veteran D.J. Swearinger.
While Swearinger has certainly made noise both on the field and off it, quietly, there's another new face that could make an impact: rookie fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson.
His skillset and play were somewhat overshadowed in a BIG 10 that conference that includes powerhouses Ohio State and in-state rival Michigan.
However, the Redskins liked what they saw out of the former track star. In 2015, he helped Michigan State reach the college football playoffs by leading the team with three picks and 83 stops. At the same time, he participated on the track squad, placing sixth in the Big Ten Indoor meet in the long jump.
Though he had only a total of four interceptions in his collegiate career, his speed and physical size can become strong attributes for him in his NFL career.
The Redskins drafted him more as a prospect that further requires grooming and development. They wanted to have him gain some experience under the wings of Swearinger and even DeAngelo Hall.
However, Nicholson has already risen through the ranks for the Redskins. In just his second regular season game, the 21-year-old received a start alongside Swearinger.
Nicholson played 26 snaps and recorded two tackles. He wasn't perfect as he still needs to show he can cover one-on-one against tight ends.
On Saturday, April 29, 2017, the Washington Redskins selected safety Montae Nicholson with the 123rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
"I think he has just progressed," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "We started him in training camp---obviously he wasn't on PUP, but he was unable to practice, but he was getting all the walkthrough reps, so he was getting all the mental reps, which is important for him."
The coaching staff has high hopes about what Nicholson can accomplish, even during his rookie season.
Depending on how much Nicholson – who is dealing with an AC join sprain – plays this week, he'll get another big test against an Oakland Raiders team that has won 14 of its last 18 regular season games.
"He is a big, physical guy that can run and we are excited to get him out there and get him some reps," Gruden said. "We know how important the position is."
And as for how much he plays, that'll depend on how the defensive coaching staff wants to rotate him in with Deshazor Everett.
Both have their strengths, but the sky could be the limit for Nicholson.
"They're different players, really," Gruden said. "I think Montae covers a lot of ground. He's very long and very fast and Montae is a good hitter too."