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Ron Rivera had a lot to say this week about the Commanders draft class

Riverboat Ron sat down with Julie Donaldson to discuss the 8 players drafted last week by the Washington Commanders

It’s always nice to hear what the head coach has to say about new players; it helps refine the discussion of those players that will occur between now and the preseason, when we will finally get to see them (and the other 82 players) on the field in Commanders uniforms for the first time.

I encourage you to watch the full interview, but I’ve sketched out a few highlights and included a couple of extended quotes below.

Ron discussed each player, going through them in the order they were drafted.

Jahan Dotson

Penn State v Maryland
Jahan Dotson #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions scores a touchdown in the third quarter against Jakorian Bennett #2 of the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

There were no surprises in his comments about Dotson. Ron talked with Julie Donaldson about the decision to trade back, saying that they were confident that Dotson would be there at Pick #16. The most interesting thing to me in Ron’s comments (though it was not a surprise) was his comment that Dotson could be in the mix for the punt returner position. This was widely commented on by fans, but it’s good to have it confirmed by the head coach.

Phidarian Mathis

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Cincinnati v Alabama
Alabama Crimson Tide defensive end Phidarian Mathis (#48) celebrates after making a tackle during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl CFP Semifinal college football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 31, 2021
Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Once again, there were no surprises in the coach’s comments about the big interior defensive lineman from Alabama. He’s a space eater who was described in the interview as being willing to do the “dirty work”. Rivera stressed that his contribution to the pass rush may not be in getting sacks himself, but in creating opportunities for others to reach the quarterback. He also stressed that Mathis occupies blockers effectively, which should result in linebackers being able to ‘stay clean’ and run to the ball more effectively.

Brian Robinson Jr.

2022 CFP National Championship - Georgia v Alabama
Brian Robinson Jr. #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide carries the ball as Kelee Ringo #5 of the Georgia Bulldogs defends in the third quarter during the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The comments here were probably more interesting for what coach said (or didn’t say) about Antonio Gibson than about his comments on Robinson.

Rivera first talked about Robinson’s ball security; this is the part he didn’t say about Gibson. The fact that it was coach’s #1 talking point when discussing the rookie running back tells me that having options will matter if Gibson starts coughing up the ball like he did last season.

The other thing that Rivera focused on with Robinson was YAC (yards after contact), saying that this is the other really attractive part of the Crimson Tide running back’s game.

Riverboat Ron then harkened back to his Carolina days when he had Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams; he said that a “1-2 punch” is preferred, and that he feels like that’s what Robinson and Gibson will provide.

Ron talked specifically about how AG is better “running in space”, and that Robinson’s addition will allow Scott Turner to use Gibson more effectively at what he does best. It sounds like — in general — Robinson will be “Mr. Inside” while Gibson will be “Mr. Outside”. Coach Rivera also commented that this will free up Gibson to “take some of the pressure off” of JD McKissic by getting AG on the field more often on passing downs.

Percy Butler

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 03 East-West Shrine Bowl
Defensive back Percy Butler (09) of Louisiana during the East-West Shrine Bowl game on February 03, 2022, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV.
Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ron Rivera immediately set about raising expectations for the 4th round safety. Heres what Ron had to say:

Last year, over 53% of our defensive snaps involved 3 safeties, so, minimum, he’s gonna be in there for 53% of the snaps. He’ll be part of our ‘Buffalo’ and nickel packages. He’ll get an opportunity to play the nickel position; when we go to ‘big nickel’ he could end up as the safety or he could end up as the big nickel. So, we’re gonna be able to continue to use our 3-safety defense a lot because of his versatility, his speed, his quickness and his ‘play smarts’. We’re pretty excited about this pick.

The comments I keep hearing about Butler from every quarter make him sound more like a first-round pick than a 4th rounder, and it’s clear that Ron is a fan of Butler’s and expecting immediate contributions to the defense. Ron even used the word “starter” in talking about Butler, which is at odds with his usual reticence to raise expectations about unproven players.

Julie Donaldson mentioned Butler’s unreserved enthusiasm for playing special teams, and finally Ron did dampen the expectations for seeing him as a ST gunner slightly, pointing out that the coaches expect Butler to be on the field a lot for defensive snaps, and that Percy may not get the opportunity to play as much special teams as he apparently wants to.

Sam Howell

Miami v North Carolina
Sam Howell #7 of the North Carolina Tar Heels breaks free for a touchdown against the Miami Hurricanes during their game at Kenan Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 45-42.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Ron Rivera may have been trying to raise expectations for Percy Butler, but he was definitely going the other way on rookie quarterback Sam Howell, clearly throwing cold water on the idea that Howell will compete for the starting job, or that he will even compete for the backup role. Ron stressed again that Caron Wentz is the starter, Taylor Heinicke is the entrenched backup, and Howell is a developmental player who has plenty of time to develop and is not expected to see the field this season.

We’ve got our two guys, right off the bat. We have Carson [Wentz], and we feel very very comfortable with him. You’ve got Taylor [Heinicke], who we really like a lot. I mean, this is a guy who did some good things, and continues to do good things for us. So, we’re excited about that tandem right there. But you do need a depth player, and [Sam Howell] is our third; he’s a developmental guy that’s gonna have nothing but time. He’ll get an opportunity to know the guys in front of him and learn from these guys.

There’s no pressure on him; to me, I think It’s a really good thing. I like [Howell’s] tape from 2020 and 2021, once things settled down for them. The 2020 season was phenomenal. Now he did have some other guys around him; he had two running backs, two receivers, a tight end and 3 offensive linemen that ended up in the NFL. And so, in 2021, he was kind of starting all over, and they were trying to figure out who they were gonna be. He threw for over 3,000 yards, and rushed for over 1,000. I think he accounted for over 30 touchdowns on their offense. That’s a pretty impactful season. So, he’s got some skillsets to him. He’s a guy that can be a future guy for us, which is gonna help us eventually. But right now, I like who our quarterback is, and I like our primary backup.

Cole Turner

NCAA Football: Nevada at California
Nevada Wolf Pack tight end Cole Turner (19) catches a pass for the first down against California Golden Bears safety Miles Williams (13) during the fourth quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The discussion about Washington’s drafted tight end acknowledged that he is a developed pass catcher and an undeveloped blocker. Rivera talked about Logan Thomas as an all-round tight end, Bates as a blocker, Turner as a pass catcher, and Reyes as a developmental player who is ‘still learning the game’.

The coach focused on two aspects of Turner’s skillset. He mentioned Turner’s catch radius repeatedly, and agreed with Julie Donaldson’s description of him as being “like a bigger wide receiver” and posing a red zone threat. Ron also mentioned that the coaches would work with him to develop his blocking skills.

Chris Paul

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice
American offensive lineman Chris Paul of Tulsa (71) during the Reese’s Senior Bowl practice session on February 2, 2002 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Much like he did with Sam Howell, Ron Rivera talked about the fact that offensive lineman Chris Paul would face no pressure to start, and that he would get plenty of time to develop. Rivera praised Paul’s versatility due to his experience playing both left and right guard along with some experience at tackle, and described him as “very bright”. Perhaps remembering the frequent injuries that plagued the offensive line last season, Ron predicted that Paul would see the playing field at some point during the ‘22 season, but repeated that he is primarily a developmental prospect.

Christian Holmes

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State Cowboys cornerback Christian Holmes (0) reacts after a play against the Oklahoma Sooners on November 27th, 2021 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The coach didn’t have a lot to say about the 7th round cornerback. Reading between the lines, the message seemed to be that Holmes might struggle to make the 53-man roster, and that he might be a candidate for the practice squad; in fact, Ron’s most immediate comment about Holmes was that he “definitely faced no pressure”.

Coach described Holmes as “raw”, discussed the fact that his background is primarily in a man-to-man scheme while Washington tends to play a lot of zone, and ended by saying that, this offseason, the rookie defensive back “would get a chance to show what he can do”.