Ron Rivera named Sam Howell the Commanders’ starting quarterback Friday, officially giving him a title he’d all but received several months ago, when Washington appointed him the lead quarterback entering training camp.
“He’s basically met the challenge we talked about, and that was seeing the growth and improvement from OTAs and minicamp … and then going into training camp and continuing to grow and show us what he’s capable of,” Rivera said before practice. “We’ve been very pleased with it, to the point where [Thursday] I decided to name him the starter.”
Rivera said early in the offseason that Howell and veteran Jacoby Brissett would compete for the starting job, which would have to be earned, not given. In other words: It was Howell’s to lose.
Howell took almost all of the first-team reps in camp, a clear indicator of the lack of a true competition. He offered no reason to believe Brissett was the better option and showed continued improvement throughout the offseason program and training camp.
In Washington’s preseason win against the Cleveland Browns, Howell started and played a little more than a quarter. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, earning a 119.1 passer rating. He also took one sack and rushed for eight yards.
Afterward, Rivera praised his decision-making and command of the offense.
The Ravens had a top-10 defense last season, providing a good test for Howell and the offense.
“After the first practice, that was the high-water mark for me,” Rivera said, “in terms of having to see and show us what he was capable of doing. A very good day. Watching the tape, I kept thinking to myself, ‘That’s what I wanted to see.’ So I feel confident and comfortable enough to say Sam’s our guy. There’s still more growth to go. He’ll continue to get better. We believe that.”
The Commanders like Howell’s decisiveness — particularly when working through progressions and spotting an open target — and his improved footwork on pass drops and handoffs. They like his decision-making. They say other aspects of his game, such as becoming more efficient in the red zone, can be developed with more experience.
“The biggest thing I’m really pleased about has been his decision-making; that has been a big plus,” Rivera said Wednesday.
Washington drafted Howell in the fifth round in 2022, although one team source said before the draft that the Commanders would have targeted him in the second or third round had they not traded for Carson Wentz that offseason. When Howell, who started for three years at North Carolina, was still there in the fifth, they pounced.
The Commanders didn’t have realistic options for a significant upgrade considering the organization’s constant turmoil ahead of owner Dan Snyder selling the franchise to Josh Harris in July. Brissett inked a one-year, $8 million free-agent contract, a solid deal for a journeyman on his fifth team in eight seasons.
Brissett has 48 career starts and delivered a quality campaign for the Cleveland Browns last season during Deshaun Watson’s suspension, which made him the front-runner in some circles. Especially when considering the team’s three consecutive slow starts under Rivera, all of which ended without a winning record.
While Howell lacks experience, he remains on a cheap rookie contract through the 2025 season. His salary cap for that campaign is a paltry $1.19 million.
Landing a starter at that cost would offer the front office significant latitude to address other needs and retain their 2024 free agents.
‘He did the things he needed to do’: Inside Rivera’s decision to name Howell Commanders’ starting QB
“I’m confident in the offense, I’m confident in my teammates, and I’m confident in the system,” Howell said. “When I’m confident in all those types of things, I can just go out there and just be myself and play free and play fast. I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing the past few weeks.”
In Howell, the Commanders have a quarterback who can open up the offense’s potential. His arm strength has been one of his biggest traits since his days at North Carolina, and judging by his deep shot to McLaurin during Friday’s seven-on-seven drill, that is still a card Howell can pull when necessary.
But Howell can also execute the short and intermediate throws, which look to be more pivotal features of the Commanders’ system, with players like Jahan Dotson and Logan Thomas benefiting from his quick trigger.
“The quick game is awesome,” Howell said. “I love that part of the offense that we have. It makes my job easy, getting the ball out of my hands fast and we have some really good weapons on the outside. That’s a way to get the ball in their hands really fast.”
That was on display in the joint practices with the Ravens — a major test for Howell’s progress — as Howell calmly distributed the ball to his targets while avoiding pressure and keeping his eyes upfield.
Here’s some injury news: Logan Thomas continued to make progress with his calf injury and did some more work on the side field. Chase Young is still taking things slowly with his stinger, but he did participate in individual drills with no contact.
— Let’s get to what happened on the field. Howell looked sharp throughout his first practice cemented as the Commanders’ starter. He only had one incompletion in the first series of 11-on-11 drills with the best throw being a strike to Jahan Dotson near the middle of the field.
— After team drills, the Commanders split into two groups: the tight ends and running backs went to one end of the field to practice pass concepts, while the receivers worked with the defensive backs for one-on-one drills. Newcomer tight end Kaden Smith made an impressive focus catch as he juggled the ball all the way down to the ground before completing the reception.
— On the other end of the field, Benjamin St-Juste was one of the more impressive defensive backs on the field as he provided tight coverage and forced incompletions. Byron Pringle was a standout during the drill as well with a sideline catch. It’s possible that Christian Holmes just slipped at the beginning of the play, but either way, things ended with Holmes on the ground and Pringle jogging into the end zone.
Now that he’s officially been named the starting quarterback for the Washington Commanders, Sam Howell has an exciting challenge ahead of him.
Mind you, for as frustrating as Washington’s quarterback situation was in 2022 with Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, the Commanders still managed to win eight games. While they were the only NFC East team not to reach the postseason a year ago, it wouldn’t take much for an 8-8-1 team to improve to the point where they make the playoffs in 2023.
Obviously, that starts with Howell stabilizing the quarterback position. While he had some impressive moments in a Week 18 win over the Dallas Cowboys last year, there’s hardly enough evidence to make an assessment on what Howell will be as an NFL quarterback yet.
But what we will say is the supporting cast around him has a chance to be quite a bit better than many people think.
For whatever hiccups some players have had getting used to his aggressive coaching style, Eric Bieniemy is a tremendous mind that should serve as a massive upgrade over Scott Turner as offensive coordinator.
Where Washington really figures to shine is defensively. Rivera, of course, comes from a defensive background, and both he and coordinator Jack Del Rio have quite a bit of talent at their disposal.
Washington’s defensive line should be one of the five best in the NFL. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen form one of the top interior defensive line duos in the sport. And coming off the edge, both Chase Young and Montez Sweat are in contract years. There’s a chance that Young and Sweat each pop this year, which may make it hard to retain both beyond 2023, but would set up the Commanders to have one of the NFL’s elite defenses this season.
“I realized when I came into this league that being the fastest, the strongest, doesn’t bring you so far,” St-Juste said. “Understanding where you need to be, understanding where other players are around you, how they’re going to play, where they’re going to be when the ball’s thrown, you can utilize that. All the smartest players that you see in the NFL that have been playing for 10-plus years on the defense, they’re generals out there. They understand everything. They can play multiple positions.”
Last year, after losing much of his rookie season to concussions, St-Juste started three games in the slot before shifting outside to cornerback full-time when William Jackson III was injured and later traded. And so far in camp this year, St-Juste has played primarily the nickel but still essentially serves as the team’s the top backup corner; when rookie Emmanuel Forbes or Kendall Fuller is out, St-Juste typically moves outside.
“Our room is pretty blessed,” Commanders defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer said. “You’re going to have guys go down, so you got to have some position flexibility in there. I just haven’t been around a group where we’ve had this much.”
St-Juste’s physical traits give Washington another advantage. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he is close to the size of some linebackers and has a long wingspan (78.6 inches). He also registered the second-fastest time in the three-cone drill (6.63 seconds) among all prospects at the combine in 2021.
“So you can take maybe a bigger receiver that is super physical, [and St-Juste] could match up on him, and he can play him whether the guy was inside or out,” Vieselmeyer said. “That makes matchups easier in the defensive backfield.”
The Washington Commanders’ defense has some serious pieces, with safety Kam Curl being one, and cornerback Kendall Fuller has nothing but love for his fellow defender.
“I always been a big fan of Kam, man,” Fuller said. “He’s just an overall good football player. He can make plays all around the field. So, for me, it was nothing that I haven’t expected from him. Nothing that I feel like he hasn’t put out on tape over these last three years. So, for me, he’s just coming out being the same Kam Curl, and that’s all we need him to do.”
With Del Rio’s defense having some serious talent, some think it might be the best defense Washington has had in some time.
As far as the defensive back group that includes Darrick Forrest, Danny Johnson, Bobby McCain, and Benjamin St-Juste, does Fuller see it as one of the franchise’s best that he’s been a part of?
“It is early right now,” Fuller said. “I think my second year, we had a pretty deep group too, but ultimately all that’ll tell once we get out there on Sundays and go out there and make plays. So, you know, preseason is good to prepare, but you know, nothing matters until you got there every Sunday and make plays.”
These Commanders players can fulfill their destiny against the Ravens.
Andre Jones Jr. - Commanders OLB
This might already be a foregone conclusion, in all honesty.
Andre Jones Jr. has made a considerable and surprising impression since joining the Washington Commanders as a seventh-round selection. This could mean the organization has landed yet another Day 3 draft gem if he brings this production into the regular season.
Jones has even been getting some reps with the first-string unit, such has been his level of impact. The former Louisiana standout recently drew praise from head coach Ron Rivera, so it would be a shock if his name wasn’t on the final 53-man roster as it stands right now.
Despite this positive momentum, Jones cannot afford to get complacent. Others occupying positions on the edge rushing depth chart are looking to impose themselves, so leaving no doubt against the Baltimore Ravens on home soil would likely rubber-stamp everything from the player’s perspective.
Things couldn’t be going much better for Jones currently. Late-round picks are always in a precarious situation until told otherwise, but there is far more confidence surrounding his hopes than at any stage during his pre-draft evaluations.
With the two teams playing on Monday night, Eric Edholm of NFL.com wants to see more of Forbes matched up with Flowers.
If there’s one preseason battle we’re hoping for this week, it’s two rookies squaring off: Ravens WR Zay Flowers against Commanders CB Emmanuel Forbes. Both have been the talk of their respective camps, with Forbes apparently having an eventful Day 1 of joint practices between the teams on Tuesday. First, Flowers beat him deep on one rep. Then Forbes knocked away a deep ball intended for Odell Beckham Jr. Finally, Forbes and Ravens WR Tylan Wallace got into a fight. The Commanders know the spindly Forbes is going to lose some battles this season, but they also have to love his scrappiness, in addition to his rare ball-hawking skills. If there’s a higher power, we’ll get some Flowers-Forbes matchups in Monday’s game to see which 2023 first-rounder can come out on top.
We couldn’t agree more. Flowers has shown this summer he could be special for the Ravens, while Forbes has Washington coaches excited about his potential to give the Commanders more takeaways.
The Baltimore Ravens will visit the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field on Monday at 8 p.m. ET, and you can watch on ESPN. As of Friday, the Ravens were favored by one point, and the over/under was 38.5.
Here’s our NFL Nation reporters on what to watch for on Monday night:
The Ravens have won an NFL-record 24 straight games in the preseason. Baltimore, which hasn’t lost in the preseason since 2015, has an average margin of victory of 11.7 points. During this streak, the Ravens have beaten Washington five times. — Jamison Hensley
Washington’s pass protection suffered some problems in the preseason opener at Cleveland, mostly with right tackle Andrew Wylie. The coaches say the line has steadily improved during camp, particularly as run blockers, but this group must play better for the offense to have a chance for success this season.
Podcasts & videos
Episode 637 - Guest: @TheHowardGutman. Knows Mitch Rales well. Great insight on & analysis of Josh Harris group's first month of #Commanders ownership. We discuss the fan reaction, stadium & name situations, Mary Jo White report, the upcoming season & more.https://t.co/eBEvDgmp8P— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 18, 2023
In video form. Talking Sam Howell. Who else? Why they feel good about him starting. The growth he’s shown. Also: todays practice report. Some Jamin Davis. Cole Turner. More. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/IGw1BIEGaT— John Keim (@john_keim) August 18, 2023
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Sam Howell Officially Named Starting Quarterback by Coach Ron Rivera
ESPN: Why Riddick expects the Commanders to surprise people
NFC East links
Daniel Jones to Darren Waller.Get used to hearing that. For those of the mind that Darren Waller left his best seasons in Las Vegas, his new quarterback Daniel Jones appears set on proving you wrong. In Jones’ and Waller’s first preseason showing together, Danny Dimes went to his shiny new tight end immediately. And then went to him again and again. Jones targeted Waller on the first three plays from scrimmage on Friday night before finding another new addition, wide receiver Parris Campbell, for 13 yards. Jones looked excellent in his one and only series, hitting on 8 of 9 passes (the only miss a Waller drop) for 89 yards, the final four of those yards coming on a touchdown to Daniel Bellinger in which Waller drew double coverage. Waller had three grabs for 30 yards (Campbell had two receptions for 18 yards). Jones looked sharp and happy to have a host of new options. Meanwhile, Waller (who lined up wide, in the slot and tight) looked refreshed, and in a preseason sampling flashed his 2019-2020 form. Obviously, there’s the obligatory caveat that this is just the preseason, but a quick Jones-Waller chemistry seems undeniable.
Blogging the Boys
Who else is a Hunter Luepke fan?
Listed as a fullback, the North Dakota State product was a fan of many draft gurus due to his versatility. He split time between being a lead blocker and a primary ball-carrier, and in the last three years Luepke rushed for 1,622 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.
That’s not all, though. Luepke also got flexed out to tight end quite often. In fact, his splits between the backfield and inline come out to roughly 60/40 for his career, favoring towards the backfield. Luepke did a lot of blocking when lined up at tight end, but he also showed some receiving ability; he caught 27 passes for 398 yards and eight touchdowns. Not bad.
So now Luepke finds himself competing for a roster spot with the Cowboys, a team who is going to have some really difficult decisions to make at cutting time by the admission of head coach Mike McCarthy. And his versatility could make things interesting when those decisions have to be made.
By all accounts, Luepke has been solid in training camp but has yet to really turn heads. He saw just 16 offensive snaps in the Cowboys’ first preseason game, with 14 of those at running back. He had three carries for six yards; his first attempt went for eight yards, while the next two netted a loss of two. Luepke didn’t get any work at fullback or tight end.
His college tape shows a player who was capable of playing both roles, in addition to carrying the ball himself. Perhaps the Cowboys don’t want to put too much on the rookie’s plate, especially as he makes the jump from the FCS to the NFL. Or perhaps Luepke just didn’t get much work because Deuce Vaughn rightfully got more run.
Feel like this is an important week for Hunter Luepke and his battle to make the roster. Going to have to show more as a blocker especially when asked to help in pass pro. Might not be the most natural thing for him to do?— BryanBroaddus (@BryanBroaddus) August 14, 2023
Dak Prescott Saying The Cowboys Won’t Be Anyone’s Little Brother This Year Has Me More Excited Than Usual For Their Annual Choke Job
Dak Prescott condemns punches being thrown but flat-out loves the passion the #Cowboys are showing — ready to “unleash” it on opponents.— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) August 17, 2023
“We’re nobody’s little brother [in 2023]. I grew up being a little brother and that’s not happening anymore.”
Full quote: pic.twitter.com/BjsQYWHXUW
Ahh, here’s a quote that I can’t wait to see used nonstop when the inevitable choke job happens. I mean it’s an annual thing that you can set your calendar too. Don’t get me wrong, the Cowboys will be fine. They will win a massive game in like week 6 or 7 that has everyone starting to talk about how this is the year. They look awesome on offense, they are flying around on defense. They’ll probably be like 5-2 or something along those lines. We’ll overlook a ‘tough loss’ on a national TV spot later in the year and then it’ll happen.
They will choke like they’ve done every single year for the last 30ish years. It could be in the last week of the regular season where they need a win and the ghost of Miles Austin drops a pass. It could be in the first round of the playoffs where they just lay a complete dud again. Either way, I’m never scared of the Cowboys. They are the ultimate fine team. They are never a threat to win the Super Bowl. Hell, they are never a threat to get to the NFC Championship game.
Bleeding Green Nation
The Eagles had a few scary moments in their tie with the Browns, and now we know that Zech McPhearson will miss the 2023 season, and Tyrie Cleveland and Moro Ojomo both have concussions.
It was announced that McPhearson’s injury ended up being a torn Achilles, which will require surgery and about seven to eight months of recovery time. Obviously, that means he’s done for the season, which is a shame because he was having a pretty good camp and is an important depth player behind Avonte Maddox.
The team also provided updates for both Cleveland and Ojomo, confirming that both players were responsive and had full function of their extremities while still on the field, but the medical staff wanted to use an abundance of caution. Cleveland has been diagnosed with a concussion and neck sprain, and Ojomo has been diagnosed with a concussion.
Idiot Eagles Fans At Preseason Game Breakout The Wave As An Eagles Player Is Getting Carted Off The Field
Okay so first things first, let’s make one thing clear—this is absolutely, positively, not a bunch of scumbag Eagles fans. I don’t want to see anything about “typical Philly trash”. In no way are these people making light of Tyrie Cleveland’s scary injury because they are god awful sub-humans.
So a cart is coming out on the field for Tyrie Cleveland who is being taken off on a stretcher. Being stabilized. And Eagles fans are doing the wave?! Not the time folks. I love you. I do. But not the time. pic.twitter.com/djrOHi4Bw8— Jamie Apody (@JamieApody) August 18, 2023
The issue is that these fans are all a bunch of dumbasses. Just dumb as shit. Complete and total dipshits. Which, if we’re being totally honest, is worse than being a scumbag. At least scumbags know the game and are making a conscious effort to be pieces of shit. Dumbasses like this are just too damn moronic to know any better.
I get that we shouldn’t expect much out of people who are dumb enough to even show up to a preseason game in the first place. But for the love of god, guys, just mix in a clue one time for me.
Also let’s just put this out there right now—anybody who participates in The Wave is a dork. Doesn’t matter if it’s preseason or what. Could be a blowout in the MLB, could be whatever. Anyone who sees The Wave breaking out in the crowd and thinks to themselves, “Oh neat! I can’t wait until it gets to be our turn!” is a grade A loser. It’s the worst fan behavior imaginable. You’re a dork and you deserve to get bullied for it. If you enjoy The Wave, then there’s a good chance you own every season of Big Bang Theory on DVD.
So in closing—these fans aren’t scumbags. They’re just a bunch of dumbass dorks.
NFL league links
Players agree that Reid, a future Hall of Famer at age 65, runs the league’s most difficult camp. Since 2013, when he joined Kansas City after 13 years in Philadelphia, veteran Chiefs players have tried their best to warn rookies and other newcomers about Camp Reid’s rigorous, old-school style.
“How hard could it be?” new left tackle Donovan Smith asked through a smile in June.
Nine weeks later, Smith was still smiling, but he acknowledged his teammates were right: “It’s definitely an adjustment here. We definitely work our tails off.”
Without fail every year, many of those new players, drenched in sweat and near extreme exhaustion, ask a version of the same question: Why does Reid make camp this hard? The answers come through experience.
Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator (seventh camp tour): I’ve heard the war stories of that 1999 camp, Coach’s first year in Philadelphia, from guys like (Eric Bieniemy), Doug Pederson and Brad Childress. I’ve heard there’s never been a camp in the history of the NFL that’s been as hard as that camp. I think Coach kind of liked that.
Khalen Saunders, former defensive tackle (four tours): The first thing that comes to mind is precision and no wasted reps.
Nagy: When (Bienemy) talks about how hard something is, you know it’s hard.
Donovan Smith (first tour): A lot of plays. We run a lot of plays.
Saunders: You’re getting, like, 200 plays a day — and that’s two games worth.