In the coming weeks, Redskins.com will be interviewing position coaches about younger players who have made significant contributions so far this season. Here's who we've interviewed so far:
This week's conversation is with middle linebackers coach Rob Ryan on the standout rookie campaign of fifth-rounder Cole Holcomb. Through 14 weeks, the 173rd overall pick leads all rookies in total tackles (90) and solo tackles (60) and is tied for first with three forced fumbles.
Question: What were your first impressions of Cole Holcomb?
Rob Ryan: I was real excited with the athleticism. During the OTAs, you realize that he's really a smart kid. He cares about football. So any time you have a really good athlete that cares about football and is intelligent, you've got a real chance.
He hasn't let us down. He's done a great job all through training camp. Then he was slowed by injury, but he started for us and he's been getting better each week.
Q: What has allowed Holcomb to have this type of NFL success immediately?
Ryan: A few things. First of all, the kid is really talented -- you have to be -- and he's also really physical. To be a good linebacker in this league, you have to be physical.
But you also have to be intelligent because like a quarterback on offense, an inside linebacker is basically that on defense. A lot of things move fast. Does he still make mistakes with his eyes? Absolutely. But he's real conscientious about it and he's getting better and better.
But the physical traits that he has, those are things that are going to work for him for a long time. He's physical into blockers, he's physical getting off of blockers, he can run down backs because of his speed. He's going to be a special player.
I think his transition to the National Football League has been good because of all of those traits he has, but also it's been aided by playing alongside an excellent veteran like [Jon Bostic]. Jon does a great job, for the whole defense, of slowing things down for everybody and especially his running mate next to him.
Q: Are there any stories that emulate Haskins' ambition and intuitiveness early in his NFL career?
Ryan: You can take certain things every week from him, but we're getting ready to play the Eagles again so we'll look at the first week of the season [against them].
They have a multiple running attack, and it's a hard thing to simulate in practice. We worked on it during individuals, this triple trap that they were running that they've had success with.
He recognized the tips that we worked on during the week and then hit it for a loss during the game. That's probably the first linebacker I've seen actually hit that play for a loss. So, a lot of that is credit to him, how he studies film, how he prepares.
But that's just one case. He does it every week. He's a real smart player. Each week, for the good ones, the game slows down for them. He's young, he'll get better and better.
And right now people don't realize that he leads all rookies in tackles and forced fumbles. And that's every position. So all of these kids that were drafted five rounds in front of him, he's outplaying all of them.
Q: Did the play he made against the Eagles reaffirm that Holcomb was capable of being a starter? Or were there moments beforehand when you realized he could contribute right away?
Ryan: He was injured in training camp, so we knew what we had early but he only played one game. So, we were anxious to see him [against Philadelphia].
But when you see a linebacker break down and tackle Darren Sproles in the open field, you realize you've got something special. It was pretty obvious.
We have an excellent group with the three backers that have been playing for us. They're all really smart guys, and they all play hard and they have special abilities.
But Cole is unique, and you don't get a kid like this every year in the draft. We really got an excellent choice.
Q: Where do you think Holcomb has made the biggest strides since he's joined the Redskins until now?
Ryan: Really the biggest strides from college to pro football is the way he gets into blockers and gets off of them and uses his hands. He's had the broken thumb now, but he still strikes, and he knows how to shed them. And you're talking about 330-pound guys that are coming at you with an attitude, so it takes a man to get in there and stick his face in there, hit him, knock him back and be able to violently shed them and throw them on their face. And he does it. I'd say that's changed more in pro football than it was in college, and I think he enjoys a good fight.
Q: How will Holcomb continue to develop as a linebacker moving forward?
Ryan: I think he's going to be an elite linebacker. I do. Being with this guy and knowing him, next year is a big year for him. I think this offseason will be big for him regardless of the situation. ...He'll stay focused on getting better.
He needs to familiarize himself a little bit more with the league. I think that will continue to slow the process down for him. With linebackers, you always have to have an extra eye somewhere because you have to see everything. But that happens when you recognize the league and you understand what the league is and how teams are attacking you. You only get that from experience.