Shaun Dion Hamilton making most of starting

December 19, 2018

ASHBURN When Shaun Dion Hamilton is discussed, it’s not long before someone brings up the rookie linebacker’s football IQ.

An NFC scouting director told the league’s website that Hamilton, a captain for Alabama in 2017, was the “brains behind the operation” for the Crimson Tide’s linebacking core. On draft day, Redskins coach Jay Gruden noted the sixth-rounder was one of “the smarter players that I’ve heard about on that defense communicated.”

And when Hamilton was being interviewed at his locker Monday, teammate Zach Vigil interrupted with an enthusiastic message that only reinforced the point.

“Man, he’s smart,” Vigil said. “He can do it all, man. It’s what you want. Turn on the game tape. Turn it on.”

Watch the tape. You can’t miss Hamilton, especially over the last two games a change from earlier in the season. The former Alabama linebacker has started two straight weeks in place of the benched Zach Brown, playing 43.8 and 53.8 percent, respectively, of the defensive snaps.

Even as a rookie, Hamilton’s football instincts are apparent, says teammate Mason Foster.

“I take it upon myself as a leader of the linebacker group to make sure these guys know what they got and play both positions, and Shaun’s done a great job at that,” Foster said. “He’s just got to keep working. It’s one of those positions where the more time you get, the better you’ll get.

“So him getting time to play now is going to help him out in the long run.”

Hamilton, who is one of eight Alabama alums on the Redskins’ roster, has been developing over the course of the season. Coach Jay Gruden said he “made the most” out of his practice reps, which led the team to give the rookie a chance.

Brown, too, has been inconsistent this season and frustrated. In light of his benching, he told reporters last week that he saw the “writing on the wall” and noted the team was going a different direction. Washington can cut Brown after this season with only $3 million in dead money, while saving $5.75 million.

Gruden, though, said no decision has been made about Brown’s future. “If anybody has a problem, they can come see me,” he said.

Still, it was telling the Redskins opted to go with Hamilton as they tried to figure out how to fix a defense that had fallen off dramatically during a 1-5 stretch. Washington snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday with a 16-13 win in Jacksonville.

Hamilton, who had four tackles and a sack against the Jaguars, said he’s still taking a backseat role, trying to learn from veterans like Foster and Ryan Kerrigan. Like any rookie, he’s also had to adjust to the league memorizing concepts by watching the play, writing it down and watching it again.

Hamilton said he’s doing what he can to try and win.

“It’s been going cool,” Hamilton said.

The concern about Hamilton will be if he can stay healthy. At Alabama, the linebacker saw his junior and senior seasons cut short after suffering two separate knee injuries tearing his ACL in 2016 and fracturing his knee in 2017.

NFL.com projected Hamilton as a seventh-round pick, listing his lack of durability as a reason he would be taken late. His smaller size only 6 feet and 236 pounds was also listed as another negative.

So far, Hamilton has mostly held up, but was limited in practice with a shoulder injury last week.

“The most progress he’s made is health,” Gruden said. “When he first started training camp, he was fresh off that knee surgery that he had at Alabama and I think you can just see him getting progressively healthier and healthier and the more reps he’s gotten, his legs have gotten under him.

“He’s a smart player, very instinctive. ... He’s done a pretty good job.”

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