By Adam Aniba
Since Ron Rivera's arrival in Washington, the potential ceiling of the defense and the need for a franchise quarterback have been the primary topics of discussion among fans. The team addressed their need at QB by trading for signal caller Carson Wentz, but what about the need for a signal caller on defense?
The MIKE or middle linebacker is responsible for making adjustments, audibles and calling out defensive signals pre-snap. Rivera and DC Jack Del Rio were expected to address MLB this off-season, due to the position being a revolving door over the last few seasons.
Linebacker Jamin Davis was drafted 19th overall in in '21, with expectations that he'd be the future MIKE linebacker. Unfortunately that hasn't panned out, not to say Davis doesn't have a bright future, it just won't be at MLB. At the moment, David Mayo is the most seasoned MLB on the roster. Based on all indications though, the middle linebacker job is Cole Holcomb's to lose heading into training camp.
As a 2019 5th rounder, Holcomb has dealt with his share of ups and downs, while predominantly playing outside linebacker since arriving in Washington. Holcomb saw time at MIKE linebacker in '21 out of necessity and had a career year statistically. This came after veteran MLB Jon Bostic went down, with a season ending injury early in the season.
During the NFL's annual meeting presser, Commanders GM Martin Mahew had the following to say about Holcomb's ability to be the team's middle linebacker.
"We feel like Cole Holcomb has a chance to go in there and play 'Mike' for us, so there's not a tremendous urgency to go and do something right there. He did a good job when he was in there. He kind of grew in that position last year when he got an opportunity to play some "Mike".
Holcomb has been relatively durable and productive, playing In 43 career games over the last three seasons registering 319 tak (202 solo), 14 TFLs, 8 QB hits, 3 int and 1 TD. His 7 passes defended (9 career) and 2 interceptions (1 returned for a score) in '21 is testament to his gains in coverage, but also a glimpse of his potential as a MIKE linebacker.
Heading into day 3 of the draft, it was clear Rivera and Del Rio were not looking to develop a potential MLB to start as a rookie. In fact, Washington bypassed selecting a linebacker altogether.
Although they signed a few UDFA linebackers, including Tre Walker (MLB Idaho) and Drew White (LB Notre Dame), Rivera recently admitted he's still looking to add more veterans to the linebacker room.
Over the last few weeks, Coaches have echoed Mayhew's sentiments and endorsed Holcomb as their potential MIKE linebacker of the immediate future. Now with keys in hand, the former Tar Heel linebacker has an opportunity to capitalize at MLB with a stellar group up front.
In the NFC East, all 3 rivals feature mobile QB's who will constantly air it out, keeping Holcomb on his toes. He's displayed improved range in coverage and the ability to quickly diagnosis and blow up plays pre-snap. If Holcomb can put it all together this season, he'll have an opportunity to be a top 10 MLB in the league for years to come.
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