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Things that Ron Rivera talked about on Wednesday and Thursday

“no game planning”, health concerns, communication, and a surprise retirement

Thursday marked the second day of on-field work for the Commanders players, and the third day of training camp, with the players having reported on Tuesday. The head coach had some interesting things to say, and at least one surprising announcement.

Antonio Gandy-Golden retirement

On Thursday, Ron Rivera opened the press conference with the announcement that Antonio Gandy-Golden had decided to retire from the NFL, and had informed the head coach earlier in the day.

Anyone who has been paying attention to AGG’s NFL career to date will probably find this news surprising but not shocking. After catching only a single pass in his first two NFL seasons, Gandy-Golden was trying to make the move from wide receiver to tight end this year. Personally, I thought he looked like his best outcome for the ‘22 season was going to be a year of training, learning and development on the practice squad.

Ron Rivera expressed some surprise about the young player’s decision:

Antonio and I had a conversation this morning and he’s gonna retire from football. He just felt the time was now. He is gonna go back to school or at least he told me he wanted to continue his education and then go from there. He’s a heck of a young man, he did a nice job for us. Really do appreciate who he is and who he was for us as a football player and as a young man. Because he is a bright, young man I really do believe he’s got a bright future ahead of him and wish him all the best as he goes forward in his life.

I was a little surprised just because I thought he was doing a really good job as an F in our style offense, a guy that could play the F or the U tight end position. He was making some pretty good strides and during OTAs and mini-camp he showed his ability. We felt this was a guy that could have been a matchup problem for some people.

So, a little surprised, but again, like I said, I love who he is as a young man. It sounded like in our conversation...that he just didn’t feel it anymore. He was talking about going back to school and finishing his education and seeing what else is out there for him. So, as I said, heck of a young man and I do wish and truly wish him all the best.

I don’t think it’ll be too hard for most fans to move on quickly. The immediate question seems to be, who will take his place on the roster?

Prior to AGG’s retirement decision, the team had 47 offensive players but just 41 defensive players. There’s probably greater need to bolster the defensive depth, especially at the linebacker or cornerback positions, than to bring in another tight end. By bringing in a defensive player, the roster would “even out” a bit, moving to a split of 46 offense, 42 defense, and 3 special teams specialists.

The other question is whether the next player added to the roster is a young undrafted free agent (likely bottom-of-the-roster churn) or a veteran free agent (brought in with for leadership and the expectation of making the Week 1 roster). I have the impression that most fans would like to see the latter, but I get the feeling that the coaching staff is more likely to opt for the former.

The defense is outplaying the offense, but that’s not a real problem

Early reports from camp observers say that the defense has been outplaying the offense so far. That’s good because Jack Del Rio’s defenses have gotten off to atrocious starts in each of the previous two seasons, and the suggestion has been that it was due to poor communication in the defensive secondary in both years.

Of course, the flip side of good defensive play is that the offense doesn’t look good.

On Thursday, Ron addressed this package of issues.

One thing we talked a little bit about at the end of OTAs and mini-camps is I really liked the communication with the secondary. And today was a day where it was a little bit ahead. I circled the guys up and I just wanted to make sure on the offensive side they were frustrated obviously, but they also gotta understand that we’re not game planning. And so when you’re not game planning, you’re not anticipating, you’re not expecting specific type coverages for certain situations. You may not have the success, you know what I’m saying?

Like I said, we’re not game planning and that’s the thing we all have to understand. Certain routes don’t work very well against certain coverage concepts. So, when you’re out there and vice versa, some coverages aren’t built for certain routes either. So it works both ways. Today it just seemed to fall in the defense’s favor.

I think it’s a very good sign. I think Bobby McCain and Kam Curl right now are showing us their connection, their ability to work together has been very solid. I think Jeremy Reaves and Darrick Forrest are two guys that are getting opportunities to be mixed in a little bit. And they’ve done a nice job as well.

I said, ‘Listen, guys, you understand what, what I have to balance? You know, I want to see you guys excel, but at the same time, you know, we’re not game planning, so we’ve got to understand how to practice, how to work with each other, how to connect, how to understand. We’re working to help build each other up. You know, if you beat somebody, that’s great. You may wolf a little bit, but then go up and tell ‘em how you beat him. Tell ‘em why you beat him, tell what they need to do to be better. And that’s what we’ve got to get to so that we understand as a group why things happen the way they do.

This is one of those tough things about training camp; good news on one side of the ball is bad news for the other side. I thought Ron did a pretty good job of making sense out of this for reporters, but I also have to admit that I minimized his repetition in the quotes above by taking out a lot of sentences in which he simply kept repeating the part about not having any game planning. By my count, Ron said 6 different times that they were not doing game planning, and he sort of talked around the idea a couple of other times. It was almost funny to listen to:

...but they also gotta understand that we’re not game planning. And so when you’re not game planning, you’re not anticipating, you’re not expecting specific type coverages for certain situations.

...but like I said, we’re not game planning and that’s the thing we all have to understand. know, we’re not game planning, so we’ve got to understand how to practice, how to work with each other, how to connect, how to understand.... also want everybody to understand that we’re not game planning. So, we’re going to do something on defense you’re not prepared for and vice versa.

Well, because we’re not game planning. We’re not expecting, we’re not anticipating

On Curtis Samuel

Coach talked about one play in particular that caught his attention on Thursday:

There was a play and I think you guys saw it. That showed in space with the ball how dynamic he can be and that’s what we need. That’s the kind of explosiveness that you’re looking for is if we can get guys with the ball in their hands in space and create, there’s an opportunity for us to win some football games and that’s what we have to do. That’s where we got to get to.

Ron was right; people had noticed.

Wednesday quick hits

Coach Rivera wasn’t very talkative during his media session on Wednesday. Most of his answers were only a couple of sentences, and it was over pretty quickly. Here are a couple of his short comments.

Antonio Gibson working with trainers on the side field

He’s fine, but we’re gonna ramp him up. We’re not gonna throw him out right away and have something happen. We wanna make sure there’s nothing lingering. I almost called that an abundance of caution.

Gibson was held out because of an earlier hamstring issue. I’m not trying to stir any shit up here (really, I’m not) but I can’t help but observe that this is pretty much how every Curtis Samuel practice report sounded last year.

Carson & Terry

[Carson] threw one out there, Terry went out and got it. And then another one, he threw a little behind Terry and you know, I’m thinking to myself, wow, he missed it.

But then Terry came over and told him, ‘Hey, I came outta that too soon.’

So there’s that. You can see that they’re already communicating with each other, which was really kind of cool because my first impression was he missed his throw, but when Terry came back and told Carson, ‘Hey, I came out way too soon,’ you see that they have, they’re developing that type of rapport.

Is anyone else puzzled by the fact that Terry said he messed up the route but Coach Rivera thought that Carson had missed the throw? Isn’t it normally the other way around between the receiver and head coach?