Updated: Jan 22, 2021
After being a walk-on at UNC, Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb is used to battling the odds. After a rookie season that showed promise, Holcomb left the Week 1 matchup with a sprained knee. It was feared that, after missing multiple games, IR would be his ultimate landing spot. After missing 4 straight games, Holcomb recorded 5 solo tak in his week 6 return against New York. But his performance against Dallas displayed his potential ceiling as a starting MLB (5 tak, 1 sack, 1 tfl, 1 pass deflection and 2 QB hits).
An argument can be made that Holcomb dominated against a clearly battered Cowboys offense that was predictable all day long. The fact is, Holcomb was one step ahead of the Cowboys offense all afternoon and looked like the best LB on the field. The play at linebacker has been sketchy all year, but it looks like Kyle Smith and the scouting department might have hit a homerun with Holcomb.
Time to Shine
The former Tar Heel linebacker clearly looks bigger, stronger and faster compared to his rookie season in ’19. Veteran linebacker Jon Bostic has been a serviceable MLB for Washington. His play has been inconsistent and the late hit on Cowboys’ quarterback Andy Dalton, which led to his ejection, was more proof of that. The question remains, will Holcomb be the long-term solution at MLB for the Burgundy and Gold?\
Washington’s linebacking core is a work in progress, but through seven weeks it has been the weak link of the defense. The defensive line will continue to be their strength, but without competent linebacking play, Del Rio’s scheme will continue to give up big plays. What has been lost in the shuffle of a hectic offseason is the pre-season where players have an opportunity to emerge through competition. It seems that Bostic was given the starting MLB job simply because he looked like the best of the rest in the room.
There has been some debate about whether Holcomb was the best option at MLB or if he was a better fit at WLB. A key observation from the game vs Dallas was that Holcomb was attacking the play rather than reacting, as he did frequently in ’19. The pre-snap adjustments looked crisper with Holcomb calling out changes as well. Rivera’s defenses have always been at their best when MLB Luke Kuechly was calling out defensive adjustments. Washington has lacked a pro bowl caliber MLB since London Fletcher, but Holcomb shares the same type of passion and dedication as Fletcher did.
Although only a two game sample size, Holcomb is quickly showing why we, at The Burgundy and Gold Report, have been a fan of his game The Tar Heel Steal
With Holcomb playing over 65% of the game snaps in back to back weeks, the door will be open for him to seize the starting MLB spot for the foreseeable future. The bye week will be an opportunity for Rivera and Del Rio to assess some of their issues on defense. First up is who their starting strong safety will be, with Landon Collins out for the season. The other decision should be to name Holcomb the starting MLB and give him more responsibility.
His coverage and interception against Zeke Elliot is the type of playmaking ability that hasn’t been on display with the other linebackers. Opposing teams have frequently feasted on linebacker’s Dion Hamilton, Bostic and Pierre-Louis in coverage. As the season progresses, coaches will likely lean on Holcomb more.
Going into the ‘20 season Shaun Dion Hamilton was viewed as the linebacker with the highest upside in coverage on the roster, but it’s getting increasingly clearer that Holcomb offers more in that department as well. With the NFC East being the worst division in football, divisional wins will be key with games against NYG and DAL being two of their next four games coming out of the bye week. Hoping Cole Holcomb can be the next Kuechly might be lofty expectations. But the second year linebacker will have an opportunity to make more game changing plays behind a defensive line that has the ceiling to eventually be one of the best in the league.
*Credit photos to Washingtonfootball.com and Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team and Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports More from the Burgundy and Gold Report…