The Washington Commanders’ first joint practice with the Baltimore Ravens got physical quickly Wednesday. Less than an hour in at the Ravens’ team facility, Baltimore linebacker Odafe Oweh grabbed Commanders center Nick Gates by the back of the neck and punched him in the face mask. Gates threw a few jabs back before they were pulled apart.
“You just got to set the tone,” Gates said. “Get it going early. … I like doing it. It just makes it enjoyable for me.”
Gates said he instigates opponents strategically and knows not to let his emotions get the best of him because penalties hurt the team.
“There’s a line that you can’t cross,” he said, “and I like to get right up to it.”
Practice got chippy in the final team period. After Baltimore wide receiver Tylan Wallace caught a short pass with rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes in coverage, Forbes tried to punch the ball out of Wallace’s grasp and instead sparked his temper. Wallace swung at Forbes and Forbes swung back, inciting a sidelines-clearing skirmish.
Forbes brushed it off after practice, saying they were “just competing.”
It didn’t take long for tempers to flare between the two teams. One scuffle involved Washington’s first-round rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. Forbes and Baltimore wide receiver Tylan Wallace. Wallace apparently wasn’t happy with Forbes reaching for the football and threw a punch at Forbes. Forbes responded with a punch of his own. Others got involved, with someone jerking Forbes down from behind.
And here it is. The first fight of joint practices between the #Ravens and #Commanders.— Shawn Stepner (@StepnerWMAR) August 15, 2023
Tylan Wallace vs. Emmanuel Forbes Jr.
Devin Duvernay flying in.
Laquon Treadwell with a good shot too.
Mark Andrews involved in another scirmish on the next snap. pic.twitter.com/j4Eb8g6YGb
That wasn’t the only one.
Ravens tight end Mark Andrews slams Commanders cornerback Danny Johnson after a pass intended for him was broken up.
The Baltimore Ravens hosted the Commanders on Tuesday to begin two days of joint practices at the AFC North squad’s exquisite practice facility. For the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, that meant facing Washington’s offense. It turns out the QB under center — or in shotgun — was a surprise. Humphrey knew that the Commanders’ receiving corps has talent and speed, but he said he “didn’t know if it was going to be (Howell) or (Jacoby) Brissett throwing with the ones.”
“He looked really comfortable,” Humphrey said. “He’s a second-year guy, but he looked comfortable back at quarterback.”
The exponential chances for growth and struggles for a QB with one regular-season start make Howell a must-watch, regardless. With offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy calling plays into each of the three quarterbacks headsets, Rivera typically stood steps behind and to the side of the offense for various 11-on-11, seven-on-seven, and one-on-one work.
“For the most part, (Howell) made some really good decisions, good throws,” Rivera said. “I liked the way that the offensive tempo was. I thought it was an upbeat practice, which is what we need to do, especially against a good team like Baltimore.”
McLaurin has been a security blanket for a variety of quarterbacks as he enters his fifth NFL season. As part of an offense that has gone through overhaul at almost every position, McLaurin has been one of the only constants, and despite all the turbulence that has surrounded him, he has found ways to be productive with every signal-caller he’s worked with, from Alex Smith to Garret Gilbert.
Howell is the 10th player to throw passes to McLaurin in his career, and their relationship is still growing as Howell tries to earn the role of Washington’s Week 1 starter for the 2023 season. Although the two have only been working together consistently since June, McLaurin can already tell a difference in their connection, and over the last few weeks, he feels it has risen to another level.
“I definitely think it has,” McLaurin told reporters after Tuesday’s joint practice with the Baltimore Ravens. “We’re still in the middle of camp and we still got some preseason to go, but I feel like we’re building a little bit of that trust where you get some one-on-one opportunity, he’s gonna trust me to come down and make that play.”
The former NFL safety and longtime personnel executive has become one of the primary faces of ESPN’s NFL coverage with his excellent analysis. After watching the Commanders’ preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, Riddick thinks Washington’s offense will be “exciting” in 2023.
“This offense is going to be exciting now,” Riddick said. “All the people who said in Kansas City, ‘well, Eric doesn’t call the plays, Andy [Reid] calls the plays, it’s all Patrick Mahomes, it’s not Eric Bieniemy.’ Wait til the end of this year, I have a feeling you’re going to be singing a different tune.”
Riddick also likes second-year quarterback Sam Howell, Washington’s weapons, and Bieniemy’s ability to bring the best out of Howell.
“This offense is exciting because Eric has them right now concentrating on really trying to throw the football and spread the ball around to see what he can find out about Sam Howell to see whether or not he can be the face of the franchise going forward……………and tonight he looked like that guy.”
“Once they started getting into rhythm and started giving him some pass protection, this is an offense that looks like they will be able to put up points with anybody, provided that the offensive line continues to develop and gives their quarterback protection.”
Riddick wasn’t done showering Bieniemy and the Commanders with praise.
“I’ve always been excited about Eric Bieniemy,” he said. “He told me back at the combine he was excited about Sam Howell, and now I see why. This is going to be a fun season in Washington. About as fun as it’s been there in a long, long time. And a lot of that has to do with the kind of fresh perspective Eric Bieniemy is bringing to this team, particularly the offense for sure.”
In the opinion of four independent experts who reviewed film and data, the forecast for the Commanders’ line is not sunny. In addition, a senior personnel executive and two scouts for other teams, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed similar pessimism. They project the line as a below-average unit with a mediocre ceiling and a basement floor, though they believe it has improved and won’t necessarily torpedo the offense. They think Washington can win with its line as it’s constructed — if it gets enough help from Bieniemy and quarterback Sam Howell.
Externally, dim expectations reflect the front office’s relatively low investment. Washington’s salary cap spending on its line is $36.6 million, according to Over the Cap, which is the seventh lowest in the league. According to an analysis by Brandon Thorn, an offensive line expert and author of the “Trench Warfare” newsletter, the Commanders also have spent little draft capital on their line. Only two starters are homegrown: Cosmi (second round, 2021) and Charles (fourth, 2020) or Paul (seventh, 2022).
This summer, Thorn studied the Commanders’ line and ranked it 31st in the NFL. He thought the group included one solid tackle (Leno), one promising prospect (Stromberg), two young wild cards (Cosmi and Paul) and three average-to-below-average vets (Charles, Gates and Wylie).
“Four out of five positions, to me, it’s either a complete uncertainty or you’re requiring a guy who has three or more years in the league to make a significant jump,” he said.
One of Thorn’s biggest concerns was Wylie. He thought the former Kansas City right tackle benefited greatly from the Chiefs’ elite quarterback and a scheme that aided tackles via formation, motion and chips. In true dropback passing situations, he noted, Kansas City tried to avoid leaving Wylie on an island.
Bullock’s Film Room
Breaking down the issues the Commanders’ starters had defending the run in their preseason opener.
it was somewhat of a surprise during the Commanders preseason opener against the Browns when the starting defense let the Browns drive all the way down to the one yard line on their opening drive before eventually getting a stop on a goal line stand. That 12-play series was the only series the starting defense played, so it would be rash to jump to any conclusions from that one series alone. But we can still evaluate what happened on that drive to see what is correctable.
In terms of coverage, the Commanders were pretty solid. The Browns only completed three passes for 12 yards total on that drive. The bigger plays came on the ground. Quarterback DeShaun Watson was forced to scramble twice, once after Chase Young suffered a stinger while trying to tackle him and once where the coverage left nobody open. He picked up 17 yards total on those two scrambles. Obviously that’s not ideal but Washington wouldn’t have necessarily developed a specific game plan for a quarterback that can scramble like Watson and even in that case, a mobile quarterback can be hard to bring down.
Where I think the Commanders had the most issues was in the run game. The Browns had four runs of more than five yards on that drive. They picked up 39 yards on four runs by the running backs that got them down to the one yard line where the Commanders eventually got the stop. So what went wrong on those four running plays?
Things got heated between the Commanders and Ravens as expected.
Commanders CB Emmanuel Forbes will be just fine
Much has been made about how Emmanuel Forbes might cope with the physical aspect of NFL play given his slender frame. However, the Washington Commanders must be thrilled with what they’ve witnessed from the cornerback throughout the preparation period.
Forbes made an aggressive goal-line stand against the Cleveland Browns in preseason Week 1. He followed this up by standing his ground and more versus a Baltimore Ravens passing attack that was looking to test the defensive back’s mettle from start to finish.
As has been the case since the Commanders took Forbes at No. 16 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, he passed the test with flying colors. There were numerous pass breakouts and he stopped wideouts quickly when they did manage to get their hands on the football, so it was another impressive outing where the former Mississippi State standout was concerned.
KJ Henry and Andre Jones Jr. are two Washington Commanders rookies competing for roster spots and playing time in a crowded defensive front.
Henry, who went to Clemson, is ready for the challenge to prove himself as a late-round pick. The 6-4, 251-pound defensive end had 3.5 sacks and 26 tackles along with a forced fumble and fumble recovery this past season.
“I wanna earn everything,” Henry said. “I know I’ll have to but I’m excited to get that opportunity to do it all over again. Earn the respect of my teammates, my coaches, and everybody in the organization. But, you know, as a player, I’m gonna bring great versatility to the field. Maximum every single play and just excited to help us win. Whatever aspect that’s called for me on the field, special teams defense, just any position in order to bring us dubs next year.”
The same can be said for Jones, who comes in as a seventh-round pick and at a slight disadvantage.
Jones, 24, may be one of the older rookies in the class, but that didn’t deter Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew from taking him. To put it in perspective, Jones is six months older than Chase Young, who is entering his fourth year in the NFL this season.
Washington Commanders: CB Christian Holmes (91.8, 13 snaps)
While he played only 10 snaps in coverage, Holmes forced two incompletions on three targets into his coverage.
Podcasts & videos
Episode 634 - Ron Rivera on Monday said Montez Sweat "is ready to take that next step" a la Daron Payne in 2022. Are we about to see a sack-production eruption from Montez?— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 15, 2023
I also talk Logan Thomas, #Commanders' offensive line, #Orioles/GrayRod & more.https://t.co/2wa9pEeTsy
Kevin opened with thoughts on how Washington’s first day in Baltimore seemed to include too much Ravens’ envy. @Matthew_Paras jumped on with his observations from Baltimore.— The Kevin Sheehan Show (@SheehanPodcast) August 15, 2023
Find it on all podcast platforms or:https://t.co/LsGi2OMBs5
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Training Camp: Sam Howell and Offense Fight Back in Ravens Joint Practice
Ref the District: Washington Commanders and Baltimore Ravens Joint Practice - A Test of Talents - Episode 134
The Washington Commanders kicked off the first of two joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens today. Check out the best photos from Tuesday morning.
"I thought the upbeat practice was what we needed to do, especially against a good team like Baltimore."— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 15, 2023
Good first day of joint practices with the Ravens
NFC East links
No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
- The Eagles remain the best offensive line in the game on paper. They lost a starter in the offseason, but 2022 draft pick Cam Jurgens is ready to step in to fill that void.
- The biggest flaw with this line in 2022 was penalties. With 44 as a unit, the Eagles were tied for the most penalized line in the NFL.
Best Player: Lane Johnson
- Lane Johnson is the standard by which all right tackles are measured, particularly as Tristan Wirfs is moving to the left side in Tampa Bay. The last time he allowed a sack was the 2020 season.
No. 6 Dallas Cowboys
- Dallas gets multiple players back from injury, even if the specter of getting hurt is never far from Tyron Smith at this point in his career.
- The Dallas line began last season at this No. 6 spot before injury caused it to slip, but the talent belongs this high.
Best Player: Zack Martin
- Zack Martin was arguably the best guard in the NFL while Quenton Nelson was at his best, but now it’s not even an argument. He’s a dominant player at the position.
NFL league links
When it comes to NFL broadcasters, Al Michaels faces minimal criticism compared to most. However, in his first season calling games on Amazon, there was a little bit of blowback on social media regarding Michaels’s energy while calling some of the awful games that were played Thursday nights.
“Look, sometimes I’ll take some s---,” said Michaels. “People say, ‘He didn’t get excited enough.’ What do you want me to do? Scream, holler, yell the game? That ain’t me. That ain’t [Joe] Buck, that ain’t [Jim] Nantz. I can’t pay attention to anti–social media. We live in a country with 330 million people. And if eight people rip you on social media, I’m going, ‘Huh?’ Now anybody sitting in a basement has a platform. You can’t let things like that distress you. I’ve been doing this for so long. And I wouldn’t be here at this point still doing a major package if I was doing it the wrong way.”
Commanders: Emmanuel Forbes
I’m not sure what’s wilder: Forbes’ six pick-sixes in college or the fact that diminutive quarterback Bryce Young outweighed the corner by 38 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. It is impossible to miss Forbes’ instincts and ball skills on tape, but it’s also impossible to ignore his extremely slender frame. If the body type can hold up in run support and in coverage against big wideouts, Forbes’ playmaking pizazz will shine behind Washington’s disruptive front.
“I don't really see how a QB with his athleticism, size and QB instincts fails. He has the it factor.”— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 15, 2023
My @nflnetwork predraft deep dive feature on Anthony Richardson (@GVOaant): fun-loving Gainesville inspiration who became the #Colts franchise QB ✍️: https://t.co/kvnhvUZjVF