Montae Nicholson is not looking ahead to next month's training camp, where he'll compete for the starting free safety spot to play alongside prized offseason signee Landon Collins. He's not counting down the days until the Redskins' season opener, which will be his first game back since landing on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list after an off-field incident in December.
In fact, Nicholson is not concerned with anything other than his current situation. For the past two weeks the third-year safety has rejoined his teammates for OTAs. Now comes the team's mandatory minicamp, held Tuesday through Thursday at Redskins Park. For Nicholson, this means three more chances to improve as a player while continuing to develop as an individual.
“I’m extremely grateful and blessed to even be sitting in this chair right now, to be back [at Redskins Park]," Nicholson said during "Redskins Nation" with Larry Michael last week. "It’s showed me and taught me to make the best of every opportunity and don’t take anything for granted.”
Nicholson, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, has had an up-and-down NFL career since entering the league in 2017.
He showed immediate promise -- totaling 24 tackles, two passes defended and an interception in eight games (six starts). But then concussion symptoms landed him on IR, prematurely ending his rookie campaign.
He bounced back in his second year, becoming the starting free safety and assuming that responsibility for the first seven contests. But then the Redskins acquired HaHa Clinton-Dix in a midseason trade, relegating Nicholson to a backup role. His subsequent incident cast an even bigger cloud over his future in Washington.
At last, he received some clarity about his off-field issue on May 14. And a week after that, Nicholson returned to the field for the second session of voluntary team activities, soaking in the camaraderie he missed during those months of uncertainty.
"This is my passion. Right now this is my No. 1 passion," Nicholson said. "This is not my life -- there’s much more to me -- but this is what I do. I love it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Having lost Clinton-Dix to the Chicago Bears during free agency, the Redskins' 2019 safety group includes Nicholson, Collins, veteran Deshazor Everett, sophomore Troy Apke and undrafted signee JoJo McIntosh. Nicholson pegged Collins as a leader within the unit, inspiring others through his passion and on-field production.
Nicholson added there's "something different in the [secondary] room," this year, and it doesn't only have to do with Collins' arrival. Nicholson also pointed to the addition of respected defensive mind Ray Horton, who's in his first season as the Redskins' defensive backs coach.
“It’s not even just the football aspect that he brings," Nicholson said. "It’s just the life knowledge, which is actually pretty cool. He gives those little tidbits of information just to start the meeting, makes us say something that we learned during a team meeting or a unit meeting just to get our brains firing. He wants us to be better. Every day, that’s what we talk about. Just get better every day.”
Further assisting the secondary is the team's young and talented defensive front. It's a symbiotic relationship, Nicholson explained. Pressuring the quarterback means the defensive backs are not in coverage as long, while tight coverage gives these pass-rushers ample time to accumulate sacks.
"Those guys get after it.," Nicholson said. "They’re relentless, and they’re passionate about getting to the quarterback."
As for Nicholson, he's just stoked to be back on the field. Therein lies an opportunity to re-establish himself as a playmaker in Washington.
"Tomorrow matters when we come in here [and] the next day after that," Nicholson said. "Every day is a chance to get better on and off the field, and we don’t want to waste any opportunities.”