Defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been tasked with learning all four positions on the defensive line in his rookie season. Understanding an NFL defense alone isn't easy. Add on four spots along the line and the workload increases. But the rookie's not sweating it, he's embracing it.
"Coach Washington has been really emphasizing learning all four spots on the defensive line," Epenesa explained. "So I've been moving from end, to the one, to the three, to every position on the line you can think of, that's where I've been playing.
"I'm trying to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I'm sure you guys have heard that 100 times around here. That's really what's happening though is I'm being put in situations where I haven't really been put in before, and trying to learn and improve from those to make me a more versatile player across the line."
Position flexibility is key in a defense where defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier wants to rotate defensive linemen through positions on a regular basis. Frazier has been impressed with how Epenesa has translated what he's learned in meetings to the field.
"He has done a terrific job, and did a terrific job in our Zoom meetings and spending time with Eric Washington," Frazier said. "Really getting a feel for our defense, and you could see that when we got on the field and began to do our walkthroughs. It wasn't like he wasn't paying attention, he was paying attention and he was on top of the details of all the things we had taken him through. That encourages you as a coach. He's a guy who's a fast learner, and he can translate that from the classroom to the field."
"I thought he got off to a nice start in terms of playing a couple different positions," head coach Sean McDermott said after two days of padded practices. "So really what he's challenged with right now is being able to digest all that information as the volume has added up, so that he can that he can play fast and really pin his ears back. That's what we're working on right now."
As the clock ticks with just over three weeks till kickoff, Epenesa is thankful for a room full of veterans who have been a huge help as he works through the playbook.
"They've helped me a lot on the field," Epenesa said. "When it comes to having experience, they've been through every possible situation. When it comes to playing football, they're talking to me about tracks, talking to me about aggressive and passive sets. All those different types of things to look for and how you have to react in a split second, stuff like that.
"They're explaining all these things to me while we're out on the field and then when we get into the meeting room. Coach Washington does an amazing job at giving us the correct information and teaching it to us. Then the older guys and the vets have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge to kind of reinforce what he's saying. I've been very fortunate, if anything, to have the vets like these guys around."