The linebacker position is one of several young groups on the Washington Football Team's roster -- outside of Jon Bostic, who is entering his ninth season, its average age is 25 years old -- but there may be some benefits to that.
Five of Washington's linebackers have three or fewer years of experience at this point in their careers. That creates chances for players like Cole Holcomb, Khaleke Hudson and this year's first-round pick Jamin Davis to be one the receiving end of more playing time. It also means that they will need to learn the details of the position as they go along.
But that works out just fine, Holcomb said on Washington Football Today, because they are all enduring that process together. It builds consistency for the group, and they are all able to learn from each other and create more competition to help them achieve their goal of being one of the NFL's best defenses.
"It does form a tight brotherhood," Holcomb said. "I enjoy my group of guys that we've got in there."
There is certainly plenty of talent for Holcomb and the other young linebackers to learn from. Davis has already shown flashes of the player he could become after Washington drafted him with the 19th pick, while Hudson impressed head coach Ron Rivera in his two starts last season. Holcomb himself emerged as a key contributor during his rookie season with 105 tackles, which was tied for second on the team in 2019, and wants to take another step in his third season.
Holcomb said the young group feels like a family, and that is apparent in how they help each other during plays. Holcomb has already become one of Davis’ mentors as he learns how to make calls and direct the defense as a middle linebacker.
"It felt like it was yesterday when I was that kid," Holcomb said, "It's nice having him, and I try as much as possible to bring him along, help him out, help him learn the way and help him through this process."
Each of them have similar attributes; Holcomb, Hudson and Davis were all accomplished tacklers in college, and they all have position flexibility. Hudson was Michigan's Viper, which operates as a linebacker-safety hybrid, while Rivera has praised Holcomb and Davis for being able to play at multiple spots on the linebacker corps. But they all want to be well-rounded players, so watch each other during plays and try to implement their teammates' strengths into their own skillsets.
"You might see a young guy do something, and it's like, 'Okay, that works really well. I like what he did, so I can take something from his book, something from that guy's book.'"
The Washington Football Team enters Week 2 of OTAs. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Having a group with young players also means it will take time to see positive growth, though, and Holcomb admitted there were times when Washington's linebackers struggled. He also feels that the position got better towards the end of the season, and Rivera agrees after initially challenging the position in November.
"Last year...I was critical early on," Rivera said. "Then as the season progressed and you saw those guys coming together and get it, you walk away feeling pretty good about their performance."
That growth is what the group wants to continue in the second season of Jack Del Rio's 4-3 scheme. Holcomb knows the standards are high for the unit; there is a bevy of first-round picks on the defensive line, and the secondary is littered with well-known players. So what does Holcomb believe the linebackers have to do in 2021? "You gotta step it up. That's just the way it is."
"We talk about top five defenses. We want to be the best defense in the league," Holcomb said. "Our linebackers, we were making a name for ourselves… I'm excited to go forward and get through another year with this defense and getting a better understanding."