Entering the 2022 NFL offseason, arguably the two biggest areas of need for improvement on the Commanders roster were the quarterback and middle linebacker positions.
The former was addressed earlier this month, as Washington acquired former Eagles and Colts quarterback Carson Wentz in a trade with Indianapolis. The latter, though, is still a position Washington has yet to address this spring in either free agency or the trade market.
There's a major reason for that, though: head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew believe there's a chance Washington's long-term 'Mike' linebacker -- another term to describe the linebacker in the middle, usually responsible for calling out defensive plays, audible and more -- is already on the roster.
"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," Mayhew told local media Monday at the NFL's annual meetings.
"He did a good job when he was in there," Mayhew continued. "He kind of grew in that position last year when he got an opportunity to play some 'Mike.' We'll see how it plays out. ... Cole's an option for us."
Originally a fifth-round draft choice out of North Carolina in 2019, Holcomb has played both inside and outside linebacker during his three seasons in Washington. Holcomb originally started on the outside, but the 25-year-old's role in the defense shifted towards to MIKE position after Jon Bostic suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 4 of last season.
Holcomb didn't necessarily 'wow' at times at middle linebacker, but both Mayhew and Rivera were impressed with what they saw from the rising fourth-year pro when rewatching his game tape from last season.
"Since the season has been over, sitting down with the defensive coaches and listening to them talk about where we are with our personnel, what we're looking for, he's a guy that we really are pleased [with]," Rivera said.
Holcomb started 16 of a possible 17 games for the Commanders one year ago and truly stuffed the stat sheet with his play. The linebacker recorded 142 total tackles and 83 solo tackles, both team highs. He hauled in two interceptions -- including a pick-six off Dak Prescott -- and finished the season with a career-high seven passes defended.
Additionally, converting Holcomb to full-time MIKE linebacker would allow Washington to fully deploy 2021 first-round pick Jamin Davis on the outside, where the Kentucky product's elite speed and athleticism would be best used. Davis played some middle linebacker in college -- and perhaps that was the hope when the Commanders selected him 19th overall last April -- but it's clear his future is on the outside.
Holcomb is plenty athletic in his own right and has above-average speed for a linebacker, too, which is part of the reason he's able to play both on the inside and outside. But based on his development last season, both Rivera and Mayhew believe he could be the long-term answer in the middle.
"We've had a real good evaluation of our personnel," Rivera said. "One of the things we did talk about was Cole [Holcomb] and Cole's development, how it's going. I feel really good about what he's done."
If the Commanders were to add to the position this offseason, there are multiple options both remaining in free agency and in the 2022 NFL Draft. Former Seahawks star Bobby Wagner headlines the available free agents, along with Joe Schobert, Anthony Hitchens, Danny Trevathan and A.J.Johnson. In the draft, Utah's Devin Lloyd, Georgia's Nakobe Dean and Alabama's Christian Harris could all be options, especially if Washington were to move back from No. 11.
But for now, Washington seems rather content with the current personnel on the roster at linebacker. Holcomb's development is a major reason why.
"We're very excited about Cole's future with us," Rivera said. "We really are."