Jay Gruden's mornings at training camp have consisted of a couple of things after he wakes up: Coffee and run-ins with Cole Holcomb.

According to the head coach, the linebacker has gotten into the habit of poring over film early, to the point where Gruden keeps crossing paths with the rookie and his iPad at the team hotel.

It's one way the 23-year-old is already sticking out.

"He's been excellent," Gruden said of Holcomb. "I think he works extremely hard mentally, which is important for a linebacker."

"The alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and I go down to a little table on the same floor," Holcomb explained after a recent practice. "Every day, it's extra reps. Film tells a story. You can see gameplans. It's also reps... 'If I was in, I would be doing this.' Just keep getting mental reps so it becomes natural."

That dedication has already translated to his performance.

When the Redskins selected Holcomb in the fifth round of April's draft, many saw his blazing speed as something that would allow him to contribute immediately on special teams. But after a few weeks of work in Richmond, Holcomb doesn't just look like someone who'll help chase down returners.

Instead, he's coming off as someone who could play key snaps on defense in his first year as well.

"He has the tools to be great because he's got power, he's got speed, he's got instincts. He's got everything you need for a linebacker as far as a skill set," Gruden said. "I've been very impressed with Cole."


The 173rd overall pick has shown up on more than a few instances, whether it's routinely filling holes on run plays or one memorable sequence where he deflected a pass deep down the center of the field. So, while Shaun Dion Hamilton and Jon Bostic appear to have locked up the two starting spots at inside linebacker, don't be surprised if Holcomb can effectively spell them.

One key to making that happen, he thinks, is using what he sees on film and also ensuring his teammates are on point like he is.

"Talking is more important because you might think one thing and I might be thinking another and if we say it out loud, we know we aren't thinking the same thing and we can get on the same page," he said. "If we stay quiet, I'm thinking one thing and you're thinking another."

Holcomb's journey to solidify a place on the roster and in the front-seven rotation begins Thursday, when the Redskins open the preseason against the Browns. One thing that will be different there, of course, is that there'll be tackling involved, something that's rare at Washington's camp.

And after that matchup concludes — regardless of how he produces — you can bet on this: Holcomb will go back to his table, turn on his iPad and replay the tape over and over again. That's how he's getting better, and that's how he'll continue on the rise he seems to be on.