For decades, Washington had packed practices. In 2014, ahead of Robert Griffin III’s third season, the team welcomed more than 10,000 fans in Richmond for three days, according to a team spokesperson. In 2015, ahead of Kirk Cousins’s first full season as the starting quarterback, the team surpassed that number one last time under Daniel Snyder.
In April, Washington started soliciting proposals for new structures. It contracted InProduction for the stands and Select Event Group for a sea of white tents for operations and VIPs. For parking, the team has a gravel lot and two grass fields, so it partnered with Dulles Town Center down the road for 1,800 more spots while adding a shuttle bus system. The first day of construction was July 5, and as the structures went up, the guest experience team arrived with linens, branding and flags. Colby-Begovich said the end result is a testament to a strong partnership with facility operations, led by director Jon Radke.
Early on, Colby-Begovich added, there has been trial and error. After realizing there was not enough directional signage at the facility, Colby-Begovich said, his group spent Thursday night making more. On the first day, the lines were long for three shuttle buses, so the next day the Commanders added three more. On Saturday, the team nearly tripled that total to 17 buses.
On Saturday, players and coaches gushed about the new energy. In terms of how excited he has seen the fan base, Rivera said this practice was “right near the top.” Walking off the field, he took the microphone, thanked the fans for coming out and quoted “Gladiator”: “Are you not entertained?!”
“We’re pretty jazzed about the way it all turned out,” Colby-Begovich said, adding that the setup was a reflection of fan feedback from last year’s camp.
Quarterback Sam Howell took a logical approach in 11-on-11 drills by eyeing star wide receiver Terry McLaurin to his left. The throw from the second-year passer, however, wasn’t sharp. Forbes, the cornerback Washington took with the 16th pick in April’s draft, showed why future opponents must think twice about targeting him often.
The NCAA record-holder for pick sixes (six) jumped the route, undercutting McLaurin. Forbes snagged the pass with ease and headed down the sideline. He slowed up since nobody was keeping score, but the moment revved upped the already amped fans while reminding everyone why this rookie is one to watch.
Forbes isn’t the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. But considering the value placed on interceptions, let alone any taken back to the house, his odds — +1600, tied for seventh and four times as long as the favorite, Texans pass rusher Will Anderson — look tempting.
Write the names of the top four wide receivers in pen. When you get past McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown, let the guessing game begin.
Want maximum experience in new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s offense? Recently signed Byron Pringle caught seven touchdowns on 67 receptions with Kansas City from 2019 to 2021, including 42 grabs for 568 yards and five TDs in that final season.
Think they need size now that Cam Sims plays for the Raiders? Another ex-Chief, the 6-foot-4 Marcus Kemp, is the only veteran listed over 6-foot-1.
Returners factor in here. That’s why discounting holdover Dax Milne is unwise, even if his safe-but-not-even-occasionally-spectacular style has fans wanting more. Then again, Washington has several players practicing catching punts each morning of practice, including Dotson and undrafted free agents Kazmeir Allen and Mitchell Tinsley.
The Washington Commanders defense is looking to take over and dominate games this season.
Washington’s defense often kept a floundering offense afloat in games where they struggled to produce last season. One of the leaders for the Commanders defense, defensive tackle Daron Payne, is coming off the best year of his career and has even higher expectations for the unit heading into this season.
“I want to go out there and take over games,” Payne said. “I want us to be the most dominant group on the field every game. We’ve got the capability to do that...We’ve got all the pieces we need to take over games, dominate and lead the team.”
The Commanders defense was 12th in sacks with 43 in 2022 and seventh in points allowed, allowing an average of 20.2 points per game.
The Commanders wide receiver corps is one of the most talented positions on team, and while Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson had their moments, it was Dyami Brown who stood out the most.
Brown, a third-round pick from 2021, is clearly the fourth wideout in the rotation, but the former Tar Heel has a slight advantage over the rest of his teammates: an established relationship with quarterback Sam Howell. The two worked together to break several offensive records at North Carolina, and their chemistry with each other has been apparent throughout camp.
One of his best moments came on Day 2 of camp working against Tariq Castro-Fields during 11-on-11 drills. Jacoby Brissett lofted up a pass to Brown, who leaped over Castro-Fields and came down with the reception near the 10-yard line. The following day, Brown connected with Howell on a deep shot in 7-on-7 drills, running out of bounds near the end zone.
Back Together Saturday was especially poignant for the Commanders this year.
Commanders OL is finding life tough
After a significant revamp across the offensive line throughout the offseason, it was always going to take time for things to mold effectively. There are four new starters and two new veteran arrivals in free agency, so anyone expecting miracles right away was kidding themselves.
Going up against arguably the league’s best defensive line is another complication that cannot be ignored. It’s more a case of holding their own rather than expecting to dominate, with the Washington Commanders’ four or even five-man front set to cause untold havoc throughout the upcoming campaign if everyone stays healthy.
It was a difficult day for Washington’s protection during their fourth camp practice. The defensive front had their way almost from start to finish according to those in attendance, getting push consistently and collapsing the pocket to a degree that’s making life more difficult than needed for Sam Howell.
When Young spoke after practice this week, he was happy seeing the fans for practice.
“Yeah, it was great to see the fans,” Young said Thursday. “It definitely lifted me a lot. I appreciate our fans. I know they’re excited about new ownership, and just the stands itself made it feel more like an NFL practice for real.”
After practice, Young went over to the fence where the fans were. He started at one end, high-fiving every fan to the other end of the fence before heading into the locker room on a miserably hot day.
Everyone assumed — especially with the other 31 NFL fan bases — that Young was done in Washington once the team declined his fifth-year option. That’s not true at all.
If Young goes out in 2023 and is back sacking quarterbacks and forcing turnovers, he’s going to get paid a lot next season and beyond. Remember, the Commanders also have new owners. Do you think Josh Harris & Co. wants to let a talent like Young walk?
Curl has high expectations but knows there can be improvement. He referred to “the turnover aspect of it and then starting fast, starting the season fast, and then starting every game fast.”
Curl is aware of the new ownership, but he also knows he has a job to do. “I am where my feet are; you know what I’m saying? So when I’m playing football, that’s what I’m focused on.”
This year’s secondary is a year older, returning several defensive backs from the 2022 team.
“It’s our fourth year in the system, so everybody feels more comfortable in the system knowing what our job is, knowing every role everybody has.”
“Keep in mind, during my era we hit every single day. We started training camp July 14 and didn’t leave till August 20. Double days,” [Super Bowl champion Ricky Ervins] explained. “My first week, man, we had pads on Monday, pads on Tuesday, Wednesday we scrimmaged the Jets. How are we going to scrimmage? We just got here! Thursday we had a scrimmage against Pittsburgh. It was crazy.”
Crazy, perhaps, but no doubt a necessary evil. Legends also agreed that training camp was critical for prepping not just physically but mentally for the season.
“You play like you practice, so practice was the beginning of going into the season,” said former linebacker Ken Harvey. “So, if I didn’t hustle out here at practice, I wasn’t all of a sudden just going to turn it on in the game.”
Mitchell Rales was one of the primary partners to help Josh Harris purchase the Washington Commanders.
“We are here to ignite and inspire all the communities we serve by winning championships,” Rales said. “We’ve got to ignite the fan base. We’ve got to ignite the player base. We’ve got to unite the Legends base. And we’ve got to ignite all the Commanders associates base.”
Because Rales has a lot of emotion built into this new business venture of his, he says that he is ready to work hard to accomplish his goals.
“We’re here to really build this again from the bottom up, the right way, by engaging everybody in a passionate, inspiring way,” Rales said. “And we’re going to need help from everybody here. Not just us. We can’t do it on our own. We’re going to work our butts off, but we need everybody to rally to the occasion.”
Podcasts & Videos
In video form with @NickiJhabvala as we discuss the first week of training camp. What has stood out. Impressions of Chase Young, Brian Robinson, The QBs, Emmanuel Forbes and more. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/kSmsQFeoZu— John Keim (@john_keim) July 30, 2023
NFC East links
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott tied for the league lead in interceptions with 15 last year before adding two more in the playoffs. But did it actually represent a critical flaw in his game, or did he simply become the victim of a data point subject to wild fluctuations and variance?
The 17 interceptions Prescott tossed last season marked a career-high, with his previous high being 13 back in 2017. He recorded 20 turnover-worthy plays over the campaign, the fourth time he has reached 20 or more over a season, though that number was actually four fewer than the previous year, albeit on fewer dropbacks.
It’s fair to say that Prescott is more turnover-prone — or at least prone to the kind of plays that should lead to turnovers — than some quarterbacks. Justin Herbert has posted the league’s lowest turnover-worthy play rate in each of the last two years at 1.6%, but Prescott’s career baseline of 3.0% would have ranked 18th out of 41 qualifiers last year — in the same spot as Trevor Lawrence.
Effectively, this is the flaw that stops Prescott from ranking at the very top of the league: He seems likely to be always destined to make a few more critical mistakes over a season than those players, and if those mistakes come at the wrong time, they will be the difference between winning and losing games.
Big Blue View
Last season’s playoff teams might give us a clue
The ‘weak link’ theory of offensive lines
There have been several studies that have popularized the notion that football is a “weak link” game, i.e. the performance of any unit on the field, whether it be the offensive line, the defensive backfield, etc., is only as good as the performance of its weakest member. Intuitively this makes sense. How often do we hear of offensive play callers staying away from a team’s shutdown cornerback and attacking one of the other defensive backs that they feel can be beaten more easily?
A study in Pro Football Focus several years ago demonstrated how much difference it makes to both rushes and passes to have perfect blocking on any given play. Here are the stats for rushes (perfectly blocked is defined as a play on which each lineman received a positive or neutral PFF blocking grade):
The difference is stark, and almost as surprising is how seldom all five offensive linemen do their job on running plays. To put more of a face on this, Arjun Menon (now working for the Jets) plotted the yards per carry on perfectly blocked vs. non-perfectly blocked plays for individual running backs after week 5 of last season:
Running backs and quarterbacks yards per carry on perfectly blocked (x-axis) and non-perfectly blocked (y-axis) run plays (min 25 carries).— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) October 14, 2022
You can see the positive effect of a perfectly blocked run as the average YPC among these players on a perfectly blocked run play is 7.39! pic.twitter.com/5A5hiXUXtL
No one averaged even five yards per carry when the blocking wasn’t perfect. Some were hardly any better when the blocking was perfect, but a couple averaged more than 12 yards per carry when the blocking was perfect (including Saquon Barkley).
[I]t’s better to have five adequate offensive linemen of similar skill than five of varying skill from excellent to poor. As stated by Eric Eager of Sumer Sports:
Consider a group of n players that each have a probability of succeeding on each individual play. Assuming independence, an assumption which has different levels of validity depending on the situation, the likelihood that the entire unit succeeds – e.g. the system doesn’t fail – is the product of all of the probabilities. Assuming that there is a fixed sum of all of the probabilities in the group – an assumption that is reasonable given the constraints of the salary cap – the probability that the system doesn’t fail is maximized when all of the individual probabilities are the exact same.
#Giants Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux says watching film from last season: "Kind of disgusts me."— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) July 30, 2023
Thibodeaux: "I get a little cringe feeling. It definitely is a platform to continue to grow.”
The 2022 5th overall pick Thibodeaux showed promise as a rookie but only had 4 sacks, clearly… pic.twitter.com/woYXoTGntf
NFL league links
July 25 — Ballard comments on cratering running back market
“I mean look, the market is what the market is, but saying that, like I’ve always told y’all, you pay good players. You pay guys that are going to help you win regardless of the position. We think very highly of Jonathan (Taylor). Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great season as a team and he’s coming off the injury, but Jonathan is a great player and he’s a great person. So, I think that will play out over time and work out the way it should either way.”
This is one of the first times Ballard and company indicated that the Colts were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to extend Taylor, who reported for training camp on time that day despite not landing a long-term deal. Unlike in January, Ballard didn’t indicate that Taylor was “special” enough to be an exception to the depreciating running back market.
July 26-27 — Irsay sounds off on Twitter; Kawa fires back
NFL Running Back situation- We have negotiated a CBA,that took years of effort and hard work and compromise in good faith by both sides..to say now that a specific Player category wants another negotiation after the fact,is inappropriate. Some Agents are selling ‘bad faith’..— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) July 26, 2023
Kawa’s response: “Bad faith is not paying your top offensive player”