clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Washington Commanders fan confidence is flying high for the team, but not so much for the offensive line

Survey results!

Washington Commanders v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The season of possibilities

August may be the most promising time of year for most football fans. It is the season of possibilities — the time when every team is undefeated, mostly healthy, and coaches and players are bursting with enthusiasm and overflowing with cocky certainty about what lies ahead.

Fan confidence is rarely higher than it is in mid- to late-August for fans of NFL football, and those who follow the Commanders — myself included — seem to be fully invested in the night-before-Christmas good cheer ahead of the 2023 regular season.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation

There are many good reasons for Commanders fans to have that feel-good giddiness, starting with the team’s obvious strength — its defense.


The Commanders defense was top-5 in most major metrics in 2022, and the unit played its best football in the second half of the season. Two starters who finished 2022 with the Commanders — safety Bobby McCain and linebacker Cole Holcomb — left in free agency, but the rest of the defense is basically intact, with a full complement of starters and most of the backup players unchanged.

The Washington defense led the league in 3rd down conversion percentage allowed in ‘22, but was 31st in turnovers created. Some smart analytics people at Football Outsiders (if that’s what it’s still called after some offseason drama and a rift with one of its founders) are predicting that the Washington defense will remain strong (an unusual prediction in the field of analytics) in part because they see both of these metrics (3rd down % & turnovers) regressing/progressing to the mean.

To address the change in personnel and the lack of turnovers, Washington used the 16th overall pick to draft ballhawking cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, who holds all sorts of college records for interceptions, including the unequaled mark of six career pick-sixes.

Forbes will start on the outside, allowing coaches to return to last year’s original plan of utilizing Benjamin St-Juste as the slot corner. This, along with the selection of safety Quan Martin in the 2nd round, should offset the loss of Bobby McCain, and keep that part of the defense intact for years to come.

The team can afford to be patient with Martin since Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest excelled in 2022, and Percy Butler appears to be ready to play at a high level on defense as well.

To compensate for the loss of Cole Holcomb to the Steelers, the front office signed linebacker Cody Barton, a comparable player and 2019 3rd-round pick, from the Seahawks.

With Chase Young returning to health, and Phil Mathis potentially healthy enough to play after losing all but a few snaps of his rookie season to injury, the defensive line appears to be loaded for bear. Both Young and Montez Sweat are in contract years and aiming to do what’s needed in 2023 to guarantee a huge contract in 2024.


For all the seemingly well-founded optimism about an established defense that has proven its mettle and is going into its 4th season under DC Jack Del Rio, the offense is quite a different story — one that is defined by two words: ‘potential’ and ‘questions’.

The headline for the offensive side of the ball has to be either the hiring of OC & Assistant Head Coach Eric Bieniemy from Andy Reid’s staff in Kansas City, or the decision to commit to 2nd year former-5th round draft pick Sam Howell as the team’s starting quarterback. In reality, the two decisions are inseparable.

Bieniemy had to know that he was committing to Sam Howell when he applied for the job, and his career, Ron Rivera’s career, and the fate of the 2023 Commanders all seem to be tied to Sam Howell’s abilities and decision making.

Question and potential: Can Sam do it? Well, he would have been a top draft pick in 2021, but fell to the 5th round in ‘22 because professional evaluators lost faith in him. He has the physical tools; camp observers say he has the temperament needed for success; he played well enough to beat the Cowboys in his only NFL start in Week 18 of last season, and reports are that he seems to fit what Eric Bieniemy is trying to do.

We’ll see what happens.

We have more issues regarding questions and potential at tight end. Is Logan Thomas going to be healthy enough to start the season, and will he be durable enough to hold up for 18 weeks? Has Cole Turner put the nagging injuries that plagued his ‘22 rookie season behind him? Does he possess the needed strength to win contested catches? Can he block well enough to be a tight end in the NFL? Without Armani Rogers, who was lost for the season due to injury, do the Commanders have the depth needed to get through a 17-game season?

There are fewer (if any) questions at the other skill positions, but plenty of potential.

The team returns at least its top-4 wide receivers from 2022, losing only Cam Sims and adding a number of interesting free agents and undrafted rookies. The issue with this position group seems to be, not a lack of depth, but an abundance of skill and potential. Many fans and other observers are expecting a breakout year from 2nd year receiver Jahan Dotson, who put up 523 yards and led all rookies with 7 touchdowns in just 12 games in 2022. There has also been excitement in the early preseason for free agent Byron Pringle, and undrafted players like Mitchell Tinsley and Kazmeir Allen.

The team returns all of the running backs that finished the ‘22 season healthy. To bolster the unit, the team drafted Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez in the 6th round, and signed former Kansas City rusher Derrick Gore when he became available during training camp.

It looks as if the RB unit has the potential to be better than it was in 2022, and the team will almost certainly have to make a decision to let go of a player they would rather keep when the 53-man roster is formed.


The unit that seems to comprise many more questions and to be more limited in potential is the offensive line. Media and fans have spent the offseason and preseason questioning the team’s approach to reinforcing the offensive line, which was among the league’s worst in 2022.

Everyone was relieved when Trai Turner was allowed to leave in free agency and Andrew Norwell was released, ending the one-year failed experiment of reuniting the two former Panthers with their former OL coach, John Matsko (who was also ‘let go’ after Eric Bieniemy was hired).

When Chase Roullier was first released and later retired after back-to-back seasons had been ended by serious leg injuries, the team found itself with only 31-year old Charles Leno and 24-year-old Sam Cosmi returning from last year’s Week 1 stating OL group.

The premier free agent move by the Commanders in March was signing new right tackle Andrew Wylie from the Chiefs to a 3-year, $24m contract. The team is banking heavily on the ability of the 29-year-old to help solidify the team’s offensive line. Wylie began his NFL career playing left guard, but transitioned to right tackle in 2021-22, and played that position for the super bowl champions for 20 games last season, including the victory over the Eagles in the February championship game. He has reportedly struggled at times in training camp, and he looked absolutely horrible on a few plays against the Browns last week when he was called for 2 holding penalties — with one occurring in the end zone, resulting in a 2-point safety for the Browns.

Another free agent, Center Nick Gates, was signed from the Giants on a 3-year, $16m contract. The Commanders looked to the future by drafting center Ricky Stromberg in the 3rd round; he is expected to back up Gates in 2023.

When Wylie was signed, it was announced that he would start at right tackle, as he did last year for the Chiefs, and that the Commanders’ 2022 starting RT, 3rd year player Sam Cosmi, would slide inside to the right guard position, where he played intermittently in 2022.

The left guard spot has been a ‘camp battle’ between 4th year player, Saahdiq Charles, who has some skill, but has struggled to stay healthy and on the field during his short NFL career (545 career offensive snaps), and 2nd year player, Chris Paul, who flashed some potential in his only game appearance (66 offensive snaps) — against the Cowboys in Week 18 — of the 2022 season. The coaches seem to want Charles to win that competition, but he has again been plagued by a nagging leg injury that kept him out of the first preseason game and limited his participation in subsequent practices, including the two days of joint practice with the Ravens.

Questions and potential: Can Charles Leno deliver a solid performance this season, as he turns 32 years old? Is Andrew Wylie the answer at right tackle? Can Sam Cosmi flourish as a guard? Is Nick Gates the right guy to lead the OL unit? Is any player on the roster currently good enough to competently fill the left guard position?

It could be that the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’. The unit seems to be comprised of adequate run blockers, and Beiniemy’s offensive scheme will probably be quite different from what Scott Turner put on the field for the past three seasons. It may be that the offensive line will thrive in 2023.

But there are a lot of questions, and fans seem to be worried.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation

In this week’s Reacts survey, 56% of Hogs Haven readers who answered the poll question identified one of the offensive tackles as their biggest roster worry, with more than a third of all respondents pointing at Andrew Wylie as the biggest roster concern.

This poll was published shortly after the first preseason game. Wylie had a rough outing against the Browns, but there were indications that he corrected some of his issues during the game. The offensive line unit as a whole looked rough, especially on the first two offensive drives, but with 3 new players and 4 guys in new positions, it’s not unusual for an offensive line that is also learning a new scheme from a new offensive coordinator to look at bit rough in its first outing.

But the Week 1 game against the Cardinals is 3 weeks from today. The first-team offense will likely see limited work against the Ravens tomorrow night, but will likely not play at all against the Bengals in Saturday’s final preseason game.

If this OL unit is going to resolve its issues, the clock is ticking.

The Josh Harris factor

The confidence of Washington fans, for years, could not be divorced from the issue of ownership. Culture, be it winning or losing, emanates from the top, and for as long as we’ve been asking confidence questions in the Reacts surveys, a large number of Hogs Haven readers have said that they would continue to vote “no” for as long as the ownership remained unchanged.

Well, everyone, as my sainted mother used to say: ‘them days is gone’.

With the Josh Harris group and their $6b entry into the picture, we can finally focus on football in the belief that the players and coaches won’t be undermined by the guy who signs all the paychecks.

For years and years, we have said, collectively, that when a new owner finally arrived to save us, that season would already be a success, no matter what the results on the field because the dark cloud on the horizon that had hovered since 1999 would be gone. We would finally be able to confidently work towards success in the belief that it is actually achievable.

A new day has dawned in Washington. The miracle is that the roster and on-field product aren’t a total shitshow. If Josh Harris, Mitchell Rales, Mark Ein, Magic Johnson, et al. had purchased the team at the end of the 2019 season, they would have gotten an organization and roster that were in complete disarray. In 2023, the roster is respectable, and the disasters related to the executive management of the franchise, if not eliminated completely, at least seem no longer to be criminal.

In short, folks can now proudly proclaim that they are Washington football fans (though there’s still that minor matter of the ‘Commanders’ moniker to consider), and can expect good hiring and roster decisions to lead to on-field success, playoff appearances, and playoff victories.

After three decades of wandering in the desert, we are back!

The rest of the NFC East

As confident as Washington fans are this week, we are only the 3rd-most confident fan base in the division.

Cowboys fans, running a bit contrary to the stereotype that defines them, are the least confident fans in the division, at just 81%, following the team’s preseason loss to the Jaguars, while the Eagles register 97% following the team’s 2022 NFC Championship season and preseason loss to the Ravens. Giants fans are clearly buying what head coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Shoen are selling, with confidence reaching 98% following the team’s 21-16 loss to the Lions.

It will be interesting to see if the NFC East’s 18-year streak without a repeat champion — the longest in NFL history — continues. Everyone outside of Philadelphia will be hoping it does.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation