The Commanders are set to start their first training camp practice tomorrow. This is a time where, as we all know, roster spots are earned while some are lost. It's all part of the business and roster construction, so it's no different in Washington. Each player's practice performance and development over the next couple of weeks will be critically evaluated. However, some players have entered 2023 with roles carrying starting or rotational backup snap percentages that rightfully will be challenged if they underperform in training camp. It’s make-or-break time for several players in Washington. While that should not insinuate that their time in Washington is over if things do not work out in their favor over the next couple of weeks, this period will help establish expectations for the regular season.
Let’s take a look at the players facing make-or-break training camp.
Wide Receiver Dyami Brown
Despite Brown's college connection with Washington’s new starting quarterback Sam Howell, both Brown and Howell, as individuals, have business to take care of, respectively. Brown has 17 receptions on 39 targets in 30 games played for Washington. The good news is that he’s averaging 18 yards per reception in his career, but the bad news is his overall effect on defenses has been nonexistent. The Commanders have several wide receivers waiting in the wings if he cannot put things together in his third season. Lastly, while Howell may have a history with Brown in college, it is hard to say, with Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson as his best receivers, that Brown is at the top of his mind from a progression standpoint.
Offensive Guard Saahdiq Charles
Charles is entering his fourth NFL season. His first three seasons were a mixed bag, but overall unfavorable for him, as he has not been able to cement himself as anything other than a depth piece. However, after head coach Ron Rivera had two unsuccessful free agent signings in 2022 with guards Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner, Charles has been pushed to the top of the depth chart. Whether Washington should have targeted guard in the off-season or not is another discussion. Still, regarding Charles, he has been given another opportunity to take hold of a starting role on a new-look offensive line. If things do not work out for Charles, it may be the end of the road for him in Washington after this season.
Tight End Logan Thomas
Despite several public backings from reporters and spectators who observed the off-season practices, training camp is the next big test for Logan Thomas in his attempt to re-establish himself as one of the league’s top red zone threats in his position. Thomas is entering his age-32 season, and while he holds years of experience over the tight ends below him on the depth chart, there are younger, quicker, and faster tight ends behind him just waiting to show Eric Bieniemy that they can handle more snaps to the benefit of his offense.
Quarterback Sam Howell
Howell is the more apparent make-or-break candidate for the Washington Commanders because of his position. According to all accounts, Howell has made strides this off-season in his development, with his coaches and most fans optimistic about what he can become under Eric Bieniemy. Before the Commanders scheduled joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens, Howell’s first (albeit limited) test to show his growth would come against the Cleveland Browns. So, when the bullets are live, and there is no practice structure, how will Howell showcase the development that observers have spoken highly of? While I don't think any subpar performance will insert backup Jacoby Brissett as the new starter, I believe Howell’s leash will become reasonably shorter.
Linebacker Cody Barton
Barton’s off-season in Washington has been quiet, especially for a player being looked at as a direct replacement for former Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb. The one instance that Barton spoke about his role in Washington came in a mid-June practice, and he described his excitement about being green-dotted, which allowed him to call the plays. Coach Del Rio has mentioned how pleased he has been with Barton being able to dive deep into the film and apply himself accordingly. So for Barton, his roster status is not in danger if he underperforms in training camp. Still, coaches will immediately know during this period if they made the right decision on letting Holcomb go.
Defensive Ends Efe Obada and James Smith-Williams
Obada and Smith-Williams are in the same situation, so they are looked at the same in training camp for me. They are both in the last year of their contract and are set to be unrestricted free agents in 2024. This is an instance where the rookies KJ Henry and Andre Jones can quickly get more eyes on them sooner than later if either can show the coaches that they won’t lose much of anything if they get more playing time.
Kicker Joey Slye
According to pro-football-reference, Slye’s 85.7% on extra points ranked 25th in the NFL, and his 83.3% field goal percentage ranked 21st in the NFL. With 23 games played in Washington, it's safe to say that we know Joey Slye has a strong leg, but can he continue developing as a placekicker and improve his accuracy? It is safe to assume that played a prominent role in Washington’s decision to sign placekicker Michael Badgley ahead of training camp, too.
What do you think about the list? Agree or Disagree? Who would you add?