Ask the Washington Redskins’ coaches about Will Compton, and they’ll rave about his leadership. Ask the other inside linebackers, and they’ll praise his raspy voice.
“He knows how to sing, but he don’t tell nobody that side, though,” linebacker Martrell Spaight said. “He’s going to deny it, but he’s got a little country singing in him.”
As predicted, Compton refuted Spaight’s claim after Thursday’s practice, but Mason Foster and Su’a Cravens backed up Spaight, noting how often Compton sings in the car during trips to the team hotel before home games.
Compton finally caved and belted the chorus to Creed’s “One Last Breath.” The episode was illustrative: He can’t sing, but that didn’t stop his teammates from listening to an awful rendition of an awful song with mischievous grins.
Compton, a scrappy undrafted free agent who worked his way from the practice squad to full-time starter in four NFL seasons, is one of the most beloved players in the locker room, who will do anything to crack a smile.
“Nutjob on the field. Crazy. Team spirit 101,” Cravens said. “Comp’s a dude that’ll paint his whole face a team color and go out and play a game. That’s just how that man is.”
The Redskins will need to rely on the 27-year-old now more than ever. As they open the second half of their season Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, they’ll be down to just two of their five captains. Left tackle Trent Williams began his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy this week, and tight end and special-teams captain Niles Paul was placed on injured reserve Monday because of a shoulder injury. A torn anterior cruciate ligament ended safety DeAngelo Hall’s season in September.
That leaves Washington with just quarterback Kirk Cousins and Compton.
“Coach Jay Gruden was like, ‘Comp, you better watch yourself, man. Them captains are dropping like flies out there,’ ” Compton said. “I’m like, ‘I know, man. I was thinking about that.’ It’s just me and Kirk left. I never imagined being in a spot like this, but adversity builds character.”
Compton was rated as the third-best player in Missouri coming out of high school and racked up 247 tackles at Nebraska. But after going undrafted in 2013, he signed as a free agent with Washington. He didn’t make the team initially in Mike Shanahan’s final season as coach, but after spending the first 16 weeks on the practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster in the season finale against the New York Giants.
He climbed the depth chart because of his goal-oriented mentality, his work ethic, his unmistakable enthusiasm and his natural leadership. Compton developed those traits at Nebraska and has drawn inspiration from future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, motivational speakers Eric Thomas and Tony Robbins, and Kenneth Baum’s sports psychology book “The Mental Edge.” Players and coaches rave about Compton’s football intelligence.
“I refer to the Mike linebacker on defense as the quarterback — no different than the quarterback on offense,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “You’ve got to play the mental aspect of it. You’ve got to play the chess match, and Will is outstanding with that: getting everybody lined up, communicating both to the D-line in front of him, the backers next to him, the [defensive backs] behind him. He does a wonderful job with that.”
For an NFL player with an ordinary physique — Compton is 6 foot 1 and 238 pounds — praise for intelligence can be code for limited ceiling.
“No matter what, I’m going to battle the criticisms of an undrafted, Caucasian white guy playing and I’m good because of my work ethic, IQ and things like that,” Compton said. “It goes really deep, and it starts with the mind because I’m not the biggest, the strongest, the fastest — none of that. I’m pretty exceptional at all of it, but that will never be at the surface of what my résumé is. It will always be an ‘effort’ guy and this and that.”
The perception angers Compton, who ranks 14th in the league with 70 combined tackles and recorded his second career interception two weeks ago against the Cincinnati Bengals. He has often exchanged comments on social media with fans who have criticized his play.
“Every year I feel like I’ve went over the top on some barrier,” Compton said. “But it’s never been nothing that I haven’t thought about on a daily basis to where I’ve made it a mission of mine — not against naysayers — but just for myself to know whenever I’m done, I know I put everything I had to max out my ability.”
The latest challenge involves his leadership in a locker room that has lost three prominent voices. Compton has sensed a little more pressure as one of two captains available during this upcoming four-game stretch against NFC teams vying for a playoff spot: the Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. He has received encouragement from other players in the locker room this week.
“Something that’s unique about Will is that he can relate to everybody in the locker room,” Cousins said. “He really has a relationship and connects with just about everybody. No matter what their background is, the demographic they’re from, Will connects with them. I think that’s a great sign of a leader. You want a few of those guys in your locker room to bring the team together and create chemistry, and I think Will’s done that. He’s a natural leader.”
The inside linebackers occupy the most rambunctious corner in the Redskins’ locker room. They’re always cracking jokes on each other, and Compton always seems to be the ringleader. But he also has served as a mentor to Cravens and Spaight, two promising backups at the position.
“I’m just a result of what my daily standards and principles have always been,” Compton said. “I think that kind of came into fruition and manifested this image that I am now, and it all goes back to what it took to get there.
“Now that I’m there, you stay in that same mentality. You just have more of a face, more of a voice and more of an image. Now you try to project it on other people.”
Said Cravens: “It makes things fun. It makes things a lot less tense. Even in close games when you’re tied up or up by two on the two-minute drill, it’s like you’re having fun because you’ve got your brother out there.”