“I think at this point I have total command of the offense,” Howell said. “I studied a lot this summer and tried to get really comfortable with the system obviously because it’s new, and just tying my feet into the concepts that we’re running.”
Learning an NFL offense was cited by many as one of Howell’s biggest challenges when he was going through the draft process in 2022. He broke multiple single-season and career passing records at North Carolina, but one of the chief criticisms about Howell was that he ran an offense with Air Raid qualities rather than a more traditional system.
Ironically, some of what Howell did in college is helping him learn Bieniemy’s offense. The system, he said, relies heavily on RPO (run-pass option) plays, which is similar to what Howell ran in college. In fact, many of the concepts are the same.
“I’m very confident in my RPO game and I’m excited to have the ability to do that because I love that type of stuff and I think you can really make defenses wrong in the run game when you have the RPO ability,” Howell said. “So, I’m excited that EB [Bieniemy] has kind of brought that stuff over to us.”
“I know some people might think it’s crazy because of how the draft went and I hardly played at all last year,” Howell said Wednesday. “But it doesn’t change anything for me. I know the type of player I can be in this league. I worked hard to put myself in position to succeed. I could care less what other people say. It’s about what I hear in this building.”
And what they say in the building remains positive about a young quarterback they hope to build around.
“It’s not something I take for granted,” said Howell, who was taken in the fifth round of the 2022 draft. “There’s a lot of work to be done. I still have to earn it.”
A team source said before the draft that the Commanders would have targeted Howell in the second or third round had they not traded for Carson Wentz.
Rivera has been impressed with Howell’s progress. He praised Howell’s improved footwork and command of new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s offense. Running back Antonio Gibson echoed Rivera’s sentiments, saying Howell has “stepped up” since OTAs. “I’m excited about this year for him,” Gibson said. “I think he’ll do great.”
But Rivera is also realistic. When asked about his biggest question regarding his team, he pointed to the quarterback position. “It will start with the quarterback position,” Rivera said. “That’s about as big of a question as it gets.”
Bullock’s Film Room
Examining the ways new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will look to improve Washington’s screen game.
The screen game is something of an afterthought for fans and media when discussing styles of offense and coaching. When designed and executed well, the screen game is something that can generate chunk plays, allow the team’s best playmakers to get the ball in their hands in space, and give the quarterback easy completions. On paper, that sounds like an ideal way to help the offense be productive even when going through significant turnover at quarterback.
The Washington Commanders are a team that has seen significant turnover at quarterback throughout the past few seasons through both injury and poor performances, so naturally the screen game should have been something the team looked to lean more into. However, the Commanders were somewhat disappointing when it came to the screen game, which felt like a big missed opportunity.
Fortunately, the Commanders have hired Eric Bieniemy, who comes to Washington from one of the best screen teams in the NFL in the Kansas City Chiefs. So what changes can Bieniemy implement to help improve the screen game in Washington and take some pressure off a young quarterback in Sam Howell?
Somewhat understandably, the Commanders have tended to lean more into the perimeter screens to wide receivers, looking to get the ball into the hands of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson on bubble and tunnel screens to the outside. The Chiefs of course did this too, but they also incorporated more traditional screens to the running back, known as slow screens.
[T]he Chiefs generally preferred a slightly different philosophy, which is to make everything look as much like a normal passing play as possible.
Overall I’d expect to see a significant improvement from the Commanders in the screen game this season. The philosophical changes along with the more refined coaching points should set the players up for success. The personnel changes at the interior offensive line spots should be a significant upgrade in athleticism, which should only benefit the screen game.
His experience owning the Sixers and Devils will help as he takes over his hometown NFL team.
“It a hundred percent feels like a blessing in disguise,” Harris said, from Minneapolis. “I mean, listen, Denver’s a great franchise, and I’m happy I got to go through that. But at the end of the day, my deep connections to this city are so much stronger. We got a chance to do diligence, and one of the days we went into FedExField and we saw all the legends’ names. And I was with my team that had been with me for the Broncos, I was like, God, you got Art Monk and Darrell Green and Joe Gibbs and John Riggins.
Usually, there are hard-to-avoid traps lurking for billionaires buying sports franchises. And Harris knows it, because he had to confront those both as an NBA owner and an NHL owner, and as he sees it that experience should better equip him not to let such situations lead his team into a ditch.
“Certainly, I think a lot of people who are great businesspeople, or are great at something else, come in to owning sports teams, they believe just because they’re smart and they’re knowledgeable fans that they can start making player decisions, and they make mistakes,” he says. “My learning on that side has been to attract and retain the best possible, in this case, football talent, and to watch, to learn, to listen. To not come in and just think because you’re a great fan you know what’s going on.
“That’s what we intend to do. I think the other thing that people don’t realize, unless they’ve been through it, business is very transactional—it’s about building value, building a company. In sports, you’re a steward for a city, and it’s very emotional. It’s not about money. It’s about much more intangible things.”
Everyone picked up right where they left off— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) July 26, 2023
Team reporter @ZachSelbyWC's notebook from the first practice
These fascinating achievements often go overlooked throughout Commanders franchise history.
Most intriguing Commanders two-year span
- Kurt Gouveia – 1992-93
The Washington Commanders franchise has had some of the most prolific tacklers in the history of football. Pro Football Hall of Famers like Chris Hanburger and Sam Huff, and should-be Hall-of-Famer London Fletcher. But none did what often-forgotten Kurt Gouveia did in consecutive seasons in the early 1990s.
The Hawaii native set a team record for combined tackles in 1992 with 169. He then broke that record the following season with 171. That 340 tackles puts him in some very elite company over a two-year span.
A few asterisks do accompany the record. Tackles weren’t an official statistic until the 1970s, and Gouveia did get a few extra playing on special teams. But it is still remarkable that a guy who played 13 NFL seasons recorded 40 percent of his tackles over a two-year period.
What makes it even more idiosyncratic is that Gouveia’s teammate, safety Brad Edwards, had 318 combined tackles of his own during that same span. I do not know how many of those tackles were shared.
Most intriguing Commanders three-year span
- Sammy Baugh – 1940-1942
I could include Sammy Baugh in pretty much every category here. And, spoiler alert, his name may pop up again.
I like this one in particular though because it reminds people that Baugh wasn’t simply the first great downfield passer in NFL history. He was also one of the greatest punters the game has ever seen.
During these three seasons, Baugh booted the ball 102 times for over 5,000 yards – an average of 49.4 yards per kick. There have only been 14 individual campaigns with a higher average than this three-year run.
Magic Johnson is excited to be a part of Josh Harris’ ownership group of the Washington Commanders. Johnson called his minority stake in the Commanders his greatest business accomplishment.
As the Commanders opened training camp on Wednesday, Johnson let Washington fans know he was thinking about the team. While on a yacht with his family in Greece, Magic tweeted a picture of him and his entire family rocking Commanders’ t-shirts.
My family and I rocking our new Commanders swag on the yacht today in Greece! pic.twitter.com/gVGzr7CHYo— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 26, 2023
Podcasts & video reports
Episode 618 - Guest: @FSmoot21SeanT. Deep dive on #Commanders' secondary. Is it the team's best since Smoot, Shawn Springs, Sean Taylor, etc. from 2004-07? Great stuff on Emmanuel Forbes. We also discuss the sale & Sam Howell.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) July 25, 2023
I also talk #Nats & #Orioles.https://t.co/uE8quEGgQG
In podcast form: Day 1 of Commanders training camp. Good day for Sam Howell; good sign for Chase Young. One thing I really like about Quan Martin. Emmanuel Forbes: length/recovery speed. More @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/uGKUtfoPOd— John Keim (@john_keim) July 26, 2023
Kevin and Thom today with thoughts on yesterday's Ron Rivera's press conference. Did Ron leave the starting QB door open for Jacoby Brissett? Thom's thoughts on the sale and more.— The Kevin Sheehan Show (@SheehanPodcast) July 26, 2023
Find it on all podcast platforms or:https://t.co/MmhRwt1oOd
NFC East links
Dallas Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson could miss 4-6 weeks with a right calf strained suffered in Wednesday’s opening practice of training camp, according to a source.
The Cowboys open the regular season on Sept. 10 against the New York Giants but the belief is he will be available to play.
Big Blue View
Thomas received the highest guarantee ever for an offensive lineman
The New York Giants locked up another franchise cornerstone on Wednesday, signing left tackle Andrew Thomas to a five-year, $117.5 million contract extension with $67 million fully guaranteed. The move keeps one of the NFL’s best tackles in New York for another seven years.
Whether Thomas would sign an extension this offseason was unclear. He could have chosen to wait another year and maximize his earnings as other tackles would potentially top the market first. However, he had a key reason for getting the deal done now.
“When the staff came to me about getting something done, my team and I, we were eager to get something done, just for security,” Thomas explained. “There were different negotiations, but at the end of the day, we decided to do what was best for me and my family (and) we decided to go with this deal.”
Thomas pointed to his history of ankle issues as a potential risk in waiting to get a deal done. The guarantees in the deal will give him some security against injuries, especially in the trenches, where players fall on each other all the time.
Blogging the Boys
The Cowboys change from Kellen Moore to Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer running the offense has caused some consternation about the direction of the offense.
“I want to run the damn ball.”
Those words, among the first spoken by Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy after the team made the decision to move on from Kellen Moore as their offensive coordinator and hand over the reins of the offense to their head coach, have cast a shadow over many fans and analysts as they observed the Cowboys offseason.
But now that the Cowboys players, coaches, and staff have made their way to Oxnard, CA for training camp, and we zoom back out to take a 10,000 foot view of their moves, do we think that’s actually the plan?
the Cowboys shifted from one of the run-heaviest offensive playcallers in the league to one who has consistently leaned towards the pass, de-emphasized the running back position in their team-building processes, and spent a pick and some money on a veteran wide receiver. None of these moves point to a renewed emphasis on running the ball.
Jerry Jones tries to justify giving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas a Super Bowl ring. https://t.co/eSDIgaiF65— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 25, 2023
NFL league links
When the Buffalo Bills open training camp at St. John Fisher University, Hamlin will likely be only the second-best backup safety on the roster, and that’s assuming he overcomes the trauma of an otherwise routine tackle nearly killing him seven months ago.
Hamlin is an established sports folk hero. He’s the biggest favorite in years — probably ever — to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. Two weeks ago, he sobbed on stage while presenting the Bills’ medical staff, the people who made his heart beat again, with an ESPY Award.
“All the support you’re getting off the field,” former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still said, “doesn’t help you make the 53-man roster.”
The thought of Buffalo releasing Hamlin might seem unfathomable to most fans. He has defied the odds. His mere survival is a powerful beacon, especially among his teammates. The world will marvel if he opens the season on “Monday Night Football,” the same national platform on which he almost died.
Symbolism, however, won’t nearly be enough to make the roster. Hamlin knows that.
“He’s going to attack it like he has everything else in his life,” Hamlin’s agent, Ira Turner, said. “You can’t discount the fact this guy was a starter last year for a significant number of games. With that said, you have to attack every training camp like you’re fighting for a job, and that should be the case whether you’re going into year three or year eight. His approach is going to be just that.”
History doesn’t give running backs Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard much guidance as the three navigate forward in pursuit of a lucrative, long-term contract.
Below is a look at how things played out for every running back who has received the franchise tag, from the Titans’ Derrick Henry in 2020 all the way back to Dorsey Levens with the Packers in 1998.
Because of recent draft history, it was a mild surprise in April when running backs Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs were selected among the first 12 picks. Robinson went eighth overall to the Atlanta Falcons. The Detroit Lions grabbed Gibbs at No. 12, giving lauded offensive coordinator Ben Johnson an explosive new toy.
While Robinson and Gibbs are different, they share a prominent trait. They are convertibles. Texas Coach Steve Sarkisian declared before the draft that Robinson had the ability to play slot receiver. The Falcons are experimenting with using him at multiple positions. On a loaded Alabama squad, Gibbs functioned mostly as a running back, but Johnson has expressed plans to line him up at receiver, too.
If successful, these players would differ from Barkley, an athletic freak who is a great receiver for a running back. They would differ from McCaffrey, a wideout’s son who already has four seasons of at least 80 receptions. With his soft hands and smooth route running, McCaffrey is the second coming of Marshall Faulk. But he’s a running back doing double duty, and he had to fight through injury-wrecked seasons in 2020 and 2021 and a trade before returning to form.
There’s a chance that Robinson and Gibbs could be the truest combination, catching more passes down the field and lining up anywhere on any given play. As the sport changes, with more sophisticated passing games and players who are taught to be versatile at early ages, perhaps they will signal the next phase of running back versatility. Instead of a bunch of eight-yard catches, they have the potential to go for 12 and 15 yards every reception. They could be safety valves and explosive play generators. If they did that with consistency and good health and modeled a new standard, the trickle-down effect would be tremendous for their position.
The fight over how to label them would be epic. Perhaps they could borrow from the term Samuel coined. When asked once what position he plays, Samuel said “wide back” meaning “a wide receiver playing running back.” At times, Samuel has seemed frustrated with the punishment he has taken, and he had a contentious contract dispute a year ago.
But the system eventually rewarded him with a three-year extension worth more than $71 million. His own lane is a profitable one.
Maybe there’s really nothing the running back can do. But the athlete can adapt.
I have learned to watch what Netflix does and not what they say. I used to interview (co-CEO) Ted Sarandos 10-12 years ago when I was at another firm, and he was like, “I’m not going into original content, that’s a risky business. We’re not going to make movies, that’s a tough business.”
I think the issue that Netflix is going to have is there’s an upper band on their ability to price. There’s a point at which I say to my family — for, say, $25 a month — “I’m sorry, but it’s maybe an hour and a half of our day.” It’s a ton of money. But if you add sports, the history of sports pricing is pretty powerful, right? Look at the price of tickets to baseball games these days for 81 games a year. I think it will drive pricing, and I think it would also be better ROI than the films they’re making. Films are really expensive. We’ll see what happens. The NBA deal is coming up, so let’s see what happens. The NBA, given it is international, would be a win-win for both sides.
Once an NFL team has its QB, what do the pieces around that player need to look like?— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) July 26, 2023
In Part III of our 'How to run an NFL franchise' series, @nickbaumgardner and @DianteLeeFB round out their wish lists on offense.https://t.co/ycucfpKcrQ