It wasn't supposed to be this way, but Mason Cole's start streak remains unbroken.
He started every game that was played when he attended the University of Michigan, a total of 51. His starting streak stretches all the way back to high school, 104 games and counting. And now, Cole will be the starting center for the Cardinals Sunday when they host Washington at State Farm Stadium in the regular-season opener.
"(The streak) is not something I normally think about," Cole said. "It just kind of happened."
Cole should've been the backup. But starter A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL in a training camp practice Aug. 4, Cole – the team's third-round pick – was dropped into the lineup, and there was never really a thought to chase a veteran instead.
"For me, it's not that big of a deal," Cole said. "That's why they drafted me, in case something like this happened. When it happened, I'm sure it was a big deal, but for me, it was normal to step in and do the job I'm supposed to do."
Cole was dropped into a line featuring former first-round picks at every other spot – D.J. Humphries and Andre Smith at the tackles, Justin Pugh and Mike Iupati at the guards. Those players have all helped Cole transition to the NFL, coach Steve Wilks said.
Cole has not only held up physically, Wilks added, but has done well with the communication necessary from the position, identifying what was happening from the defense pre-snap.
"That was one of the things we were a little concerned with, with a rookie stepping in and A.Q. being so seasoned," Wilks said. "Mason has done a tremendous job."
Cole emphasized that the "learning never stops." But he doesn't have nerves going into the first regular-season game. He reminds himself it's the same game he and everyone else has been playing since they were in grade school.
Besides, he's got to be doing something right for all his coaches to have put him in the starting lineup so many years in a row.
"For the most part, I am comfortable," Cole said. "Comfortable with the guys, comfortable with the offense. There will be some growing pains in the season for sure, but I'll get past those."
NKEMDICHE'S TIME IS NOW
Earlier Friday, General Manager Steve Keim said it was a "real concern" defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche had yet to perform well in games during his NFL career, noting it was time for him to step up.
Thursday, Wilks had pulled Nkemdiche – who missed all but a couple of snaps of the last three preseason games because of a foot injury – aside just to get a sense of where he was going into Sunday's game.
"He seemed like he's in a good place," Wilks said. "He needs to dominate, you know?
"Not putting any pressure on him, I'm just telling him the expectations. He's ready to accept those and go out and have a good game."
Officially, Nkemdiche is listed as questionable on the injury report, but Wilks' comments seemed to point that he will play. Nkemdiche sounded like he was planning on playing as well.
"I'm just anxious to get out there," he said. "I'm feeling good. Ready to play, be out there with my boys, play some football."
GOLDEN WON'T PLAY, GRESHAM QUESTIONABLE TO MAKE RETURN
Wilks confirmed what was expected, that defensive end Markus Golden (knee) will not play Sunday. Golden has yet to practice since returning from ACL surgery. Tight end Jermaine Gresham, limited all week, is officially questionable, as is Nkemdiche, defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (toe) and running back T.J. Logan (ankle).
For the Redskins, wide receiver Maurice Harris (concussion) is out.
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Washington Redskins