Montae Nicholson had the air of a man looking for a fresh start as held an interview session with reporters Tuesday for the first time since last fall. He knows that 2018 wasn’t a great year for him, and he has an opportunity to hit restart.
After starting six games as a rookie, Nicholson began the season as the starting safety opposite D.J. Swearinger, before being replaced after seven games by midseason trade acquisition Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Things didn’t go any better off the field, as he was arrested following a bar fight near the team’s practice facility in December, and the team ended his season by putting him on the non-football illness list with two games remaining.
“I would say ‘tough’ and I wouldn’t be lying,” Nicholson said in describing last season. “Like I said, everything happens for a reason. I can’t complain. I wasn’t really in a position to succeed [because of injuries] and [the team] saw that. At the end of the day, I want to win. If that means I’m not [a starter], I’ll take that back seat.”
Nicholson did not directly address his arrest, but Coach Jay Gruden said no disciplinary action would be taken against the third-year player, whose misdemeanor assault charges were dropped last month.
His goal, Nicholson said, is to get his starting job back.
“Of course, that’s where I hope things end up, but everything happens for a reason,” Nicholson said. “If it’s not me, there’s no falloff. We’re just competing every day trying to make each other better so the team can be better.”
The team has worked him back on a limited basis during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, splitting first-team reps with Deshazor Everett. Nicholson said he feels better physically and has learned more about how to take care of his body off the field. He has dealt with injuries in each of his two seasons, ending the 2017 on injured reserve following a concussion, and he had some migraines and lingering issues last season in addition to nagging ankle, hip and shoulder injuries.
Landon Collins is a lock to start at one safety position after signing an $84 million deal in free agency. Clinton-Dix signed with the Bears this offseason, so that leaves Nicholson, Everett and second-year pro Troy Apke competing for the other starting slot. Both Gruden and Nicholson stressed that communication will be an important factor in the final decision.
“The big thing from Montae is just to get the communication down with Landon and whoever the other safety is,” Gruden said. “That’s the big thing about the safety position is, who’s down, who’s in the post? Communication is critical for those guys.”
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