A big focus of this Washington Commanders training camp has been on the most anonymous position on the most anonymous unit in football.
Guards don’t snap the ball like centers or block big-name edge rushers like tackles, but in revamping its line this offseason, Washington ditched two aging guards and bet on the development of more athletic players with little experience. Washington believed the youth could reduce the injury struggles of recent years and the athleticism could improve key plays in the new offensive scheme, such as screens and outside runs.
During a recent practice, when Cosmi didn’t participate, it was notable the backup right guard wasn’t Charles or Paul. It was Stromberg, the rookie who was drafted to play center. He played guard his freshman year at Arkansas in 2019 and over the next three years took 2,398 snaps at center and one at guard.
Midway through camp, Stromberg started playing right guard and then took snaps there in the second preseason game. He figures to be the top backup center who can play guard if needed. Stromberg said he didn’t expect the position switch but is now refining his footwork and timing.
“It’s feeling good so far,” he said. “It’s not much of an adjustment, just little things I want to correct here and there.”
Tremayne’s name wasn’t called in the 2023 NFL draft, but that doesn’t change how he came into training camp with the Washington Commanders ready to commit his work ethic to achieving those goals.
“I think I just have to bring that same attitude I had when I went to Stanford,” Tremayne said. “When I got there, nothing was given to me. I had to work for everything I got there, so I feel like I’m in a similar situation here, which is kinda funny. I just have to bring that same mentality and go even harder while I’m here to get what I want.”
When Tremayne realized his playing time would be limited, he tightened up his offensive game by elevating his catching and running and bringing it up to the Pac-12 level. He was also guided by former Stanford offensive coordinator and now Commanders quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard.
“It’s awesome working with Tavita Pritchard again; I love Tavita,” Tremayne said. “I was there at Stanford with him for five years, so I learned a ton through him, and it feels good having another Stamford guy.”
If Howell hits, even if he’s just solid, then the Commanders can — finally — scratch “find a quarterback” off their to-do list each offseason. Since Kirk Cousins last played in Washington in 2017, the franchise has started 12 different quarterbacks due to a combination of injuries and ineptitude. In Rivera’s three seasons alone, the Commanders have started eight.
The quest goes back a long way: Since winning the Super Bowl to close the 1991 season, Washington has started 34 quarterbacks, including Howell. Only two — Gus Frerotte and Cousins — have started more than 40 games for the franchise.
But Rivera is hopeful this is the year Washington’s QB carousel stops.
“We feel pretty comfortable, pretty good about the guy this year. We feel very strongly — I know I do — going into this season that we’ve got a guy,” Rivera said of Howell.
“For three seasons,” Rivera added, “I’ve always felt that I had a question mark and now it feels like, ‘OK, this is pretty good.’ I mean, I’m pretty comfortable, pretty confident and I look forward to seeing it.”
It’s been particularly bad since Cousins left. Look at the combined numbers in the past five years. The Commanders are 31st in total QBR, ahead of only the New York Jets. Their 95 touchdown passes rank 29th and their 75 interceptions were more than all but six teams. They also averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt, ahead of only three teams.
“It’s tough mentally,” former Washington tight end Logan Paulsen said of those feelings leading into cutdown day. “Like 44 guys know they’re going to be on the team. And you’re the guy that’s got to play and fight for those last spots.”
Waiting around while outsiders debate your fate is another hurdle. Paulsen, now an analyst for the Commanders’ website after an eight-year career, tried to ignore the chatter but acknowledged he couldn’t avoid all of it. The harsher views occasionally struck a nerve.
“That’s always frustrating because it’s like, ‘I thought I did enough, so what’s with this (reporter or radio host)?’” said Paulsen, who made Washington’s Week 1 roster in 2010 as an undrafted free agent. “But that’s the name of the game. That’s the NFL.”
Danny Johnson came from tiny Southern University to overcome those long UDFA odds to stick with the team in 2018. The reserve cornerback recalled a stretch of pacing and prayers before jubilation arrived upon learning he made the team. But he experienced the opposite emotions last year.
Unlike Paulsen, Johnson remained on that roster bubble throughout his five-plus-year career. Surprisingly, he was among Washington’s final cuts in 2022 despite having played 26 games over the previous two seasons.
“The emotions were there,” Johnson said. “But I understand the business side of it.”
Washington signed Johnson to the practice squad, promising it would give him a shot to rejoin the 53. He ended up playing 11 games and made four starts. “They kept that word,” Johnson said.
Rivera explained how he and Washington’s front office trimmed the roster to 53 players.
“What we’re going to do is after the game, we’ll meet as a coaching staff, and we’ll talk specifically about each player,” Rivera said.
“Where they fit, how they fit, and what the situation circumstances are for each guy. Then myself and, the coordinators are going to sit down, and we will meet with [Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel] Marty [Hurney] and the personnel staff and [General Manager] Martin [Mayhew]. We’ll discuss where we are and how the coaches feel about it. We’ll listen to their take on everybody, each individual. Then we’ll discuss by position. What usually happens is we usually start with a high number on each position, and then we whittle it down.”
The Commanders face some difficult decisions at a number of positions. Will they keep 11 defensive linemen, including both rookie defensive ends? What about three quarterbacks? Six or seven wide receivers? Will Rivera part with any of Washington’s 2023 draft picks?
Saturday’s preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals will allow players on the roster bubble one last opportunity to impress the Commanders — and 31 other teams.
The Commanders will be examining the waiver wire closely after final cuts.
Commanders could sign Zack Kuntz
Zack Kuntz is a bit of a unicorn. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 4.55-second 40-yard dash time. Near-elite numbers in the 20-yard shuttle and broad jump. Solid strength numbers. On paper, this guy is a freak.
On the field, he has not done nearly as well. Kuntz made no impact as a receiver during a few seasons with Penn State, then transitioned to tight end with Old Dominion and had an excellent 2021 campaign. But he only played in five games in 2022 and didn’t do very much.
Still, the Jets ventured a seventh-round pick on him in in the 2023 draft and would like to hold onto him for at least one season on their practice squad to see what he can grow into. If the Commanders aren’t satisfied with what they have after Logan Thomas, John Bates, and Cole Turner, I’d be eager to see him do his growing in D.C.
The Washington Nationals and Washington Commanders today announce “Capital Crossover: Diamonds & Gridiron,” celebrating two of the area’s premier sports franchises and most passionate fan bases. The two-game series comprises the Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Commanders vs. Chicago Bears on Thursday, Oct. 5. Both games will feature special appearances, crossover activations and more. Tickets, including all-inclusive VIP and discount packages, can be purchased at nats.com/Commanders.
“As a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C., area, it brings me great pleasure to congratulate Josh Harris and his group on taking ownership of the Commanders franchise,” said Washington Nationals Managing Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner. “We’re looking forward to developing a meaningful relationship with Josh and his team, and this series is the perfect way to begin a new era of professional football in the District. This series is first and foremost a recognition of two tremendous fan bases that help make our area one of the best sports markets in the country, and we’re thrilled to celebrate alongside the Commanders.”
For Commanders’ equipment staff, gearing up for a successful season goes beyond uniform fits and cleat sizes
Commanders’ safety Kam Curl returned for workouts this summer with a lot less hair than he had at the end of last season. For most, this sort of change warranted nothing more than a nod or compliment. For the Washington Commanders’ equipment staff, however, Curl’s new look came with serious considerations.
“He showed up one day and his helmet did not fit him,” recalled Justin Brooks, the Commanders’ co-equipment manager. “That’s an absolute real concern.”
Preseason comes with an influx of new hairdos and new players that the equipment staff must address and adjust to. That element is just one of the many that make training camp specifically unlike any other time of the year for this department. During training camp, their staff more than doubles. The turnarounds are quicker. The mornings are early, and the days are long. Joint practices this year added in some more wrinkles.
And over these grueling summer weeks, the equipment staff, led by Brooks and Drew Curls, pushes to find rhythm amidst the busyness and improve every day to help the Commanders be their best.
“During training camp, the roster size makes a difference, but I think the big thing is the schedule,” Curls said.
Nearly every practice of training camp involves a morning and afternoon session, which means more and faster laundry than usual for Curls, Brooks & Co. Practice jerseys must be washed and dried in between the sessions, plus the number of towels used perhaps doubles as the players often shower twice a day. And while this part of their day-to-day training camp work is significant, it is by no means their only job.
“You look at all the things we do to help provide everything for the players, for the coaches throughout each week, and the game is like our final product,” Curls said. “The guys are on the field now, and we’ve done everything we can to put them in the best position to win a football game. Winning is always the best feeling.”
Podcasts & videos
In video form: talking Terry McLaurin; the final preseason game (who will play?). Interesting roster decisions that could be shaped by tomorrows game. An interview with Ricky Stromberg. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/20lqyDVDR0— John Keim (@john_keim) August 25, 2023
Episode 642 - Jack Del Rio speaks. Insight on Emmanuel Forbes, Quan Martin, Jamin Davis, Andre Jones & team's penchant for late-round steals.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 25, 2023
I also discuss:
- Ron Rivera's comments on cutdown day
- #StephenStrasburg retiring
- #Nats' & #Orioles' winshttps://t.co/szZ5oivIQg
Locked on Commanders: Some Washington Commanders Starters Will Play Preseason Finale Says Ron Rivera | Position Battles
NEW EPISODE!@ratedarmstrong chopped it up with @drobalwayzopen to talk Jahan Dotson and other WRs in the NFL!— BLEAV in Commanders (@BleavCommanders) August 25, 2023
(David has had 59 players drafted so he knows his stuff!)
Presented by: @betonline_ag @BleavNetwork | @BleavSports https://t.co/76tCVaIPUe
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With a new destination solidified, the question now is how Lance will fit into the Cowboys’ existing depth chart. Dak Prescott is still the starter in Dallas, and behind him sit backup Cooper Rush and Will Grier. Lance is expected to be the team’s third-string signal-caller, per Rapoport, with the opportunity to develop into more. Still only 23 years old, Lance has a new team that’s taking a low-price chance he could develop into something special, as was initially predicted of him.
He will be due $6.25 million fully guaranteed over the next two seasons, Rapoport noted, with a fifth-year option still available to the Cowboys if the situation presents itself.
GIANTS: The Giants appear to have three-fifths of their offensive line (both tackle spots and center) figured out, leaving multiple candidates to compete for the two starting OG spots. Mark Glowinski, Ben Bredeson and Josh Ezeudu are the most likely options there, but Tyre Phillips has traditionally worked better inside than out and could be used inside if he’s healthy. Phillips and Matt Peart are also the backup tackles, but it’s not clear how this entire group is stacked. Perhaps that reveals itself in the final preseason game. The Giants know they can improve up front this season after mixed results from the line a year ago.
COMMANDERS: The Commanders’ defensive line is arguably one of the best in the league. And it’s deep, too, especially on the outside where they run five-plus deep. Local reports suggest that 2023 seventh-rounder Andre Jones Jr. has been more impactful than fifth-rounder KJ Henry. They might be battling for the sixth edge spot — if Washington keeps that many. But there’s a longer-term significance here: The team’s five most established ends (Montez Sweat, Chase Young, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Efe Obada) are all set to be free agents in 2024. Henry and Jones could be playing against the Bengals with making this year’s roster in mind, but it’s also the kind of game with some potential long-term ramifications.
COWBOYS: If you’re looking to keep an eye on a back-of-the-roster player who could make the team this season, how about undrafted rookie Isaiah Land? After an eye-opening Senior Bowl (playing stand-up linebacker for the first time), Land flashed some fairly juicy athletic numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine and immediately got defensive coordinator Dan Quinn “excited” this spring after signing with Dallas. Land has kept it up, too, and might be favored for a roster spot heading into the final preseason game. The Cowboys have had an excellent run of identifying undrafted talent in recent years, and Land might be their latest find.
EAGLES: Early in camp, the question was whether rookie QB Tanner McKee could beat out Ian Book for a spot. To this point, however, McKee not only has outplayed Book, but some observers might argue that he might be a better option at this point than projected backup Marcus Mariota. That last part is debatable, but it’s clear that McKee has proven his worth. Could he really end up as Jalen Hurts’ backup? Last year, Gardner Minshew played a valuable role as QB2 in Philly. Tune in Thursday to watch McKee, who has thrown the ball well but could sharpen his accuracy just a bit to fully state his case.
If Dak Prescott and Dallas falter, the outside noise will be deafening with the former No. 3 pick now looming behind in the depth chart.
Last year, Prescott led the league with 15 interceptions despite playing in only 12 games. He also tossed two interceptions in a divisional-round loss to San Francisco that ended Dallas’s season. Should Prescott struggle to start 2023, there will be local and national clamoring for Lance to get a look, both from frustrated fans and headline-greedy pundits.
The reasons are obvious. Lance played one full season at North Dakota State and threw 28 touchdowns without an interception. He also ran for an additional 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. All told, Lance has a combined 420 pass attempts between college and pro football since 2018, which in some ways makes the upside all the more tantalizing.
Once a player is proven to be something, the intrigue wears off. His record speaks for itself. With Lance, nobody knows for sure.
Logically speaking, there’s zero argument to start Lance over Prescott even if the latter has issues with turnovers. Lance was given every benefit of the doubt with San Francisco after the team invested three first-rounders to select him, and he couldn’t beat out a seventh-round pick in Brock Purdy or an acquired veteran backup in Sam Darnold.
But logic often goes into the dustbin with Dallas. Look at last season, when many believed the Cowboys should have benched Prescott in favor of Rush, who went 4–1 in five starts while Prescott worked his way back from a thumb injury. Never mind that Rush completed 58% of his passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Once a player is proven to be something, the intrigue wears off. His record speaks for itself. With Lance, nobody knows for sure.
Furthermore, the Cowboys have a daunting schedule early on. All told, the first six weeks include four of the most talented defenses in the NFL, along with a smart, blitz-happy coordinator in the Giants’ Wink Martindale. All this while the Cowboys are figuring out life without longtime offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who left for the Chargers this offseason.
It’s potentially the perfect storm for chaos in Dallas.
NFL league links
Round 2 (No. 47): Jartavius Martin, S. Martin eventually will be used all over, but for now, he has played mostly in the slot and some in the box as an extra safety. He’ll play a role, but it’s hard to see how much time he’ll get considering he’s not the Commanders’ main slot corner, nor is he their top backup safety. But he can play gunner on special teams and will be part of certain packages that highlight his versatility.
Round 3 (No. 97): Ricky Stromberg, C. He has worked as the No. 3 center, though he splits reps on the second unit with Tyler Larsen. Stromberg also has worked at right guard as the coaches want to see if he can play there in a pinch — otherwise, there’s a good chance he won’t be active on game days. If all goes well for Washington, and starter Nick Gates stays healthy, Stromberg won’t play.
Round 4 (No. 118): Braeden Daniels, G. It’s hard to imagine Washington cutting a fourth-round pick with a high ceiling, so Daniels should make the roster despite being a raw prospect. Daniels has shown recent improvement, but he’d be the Commanders’ fourth tackle at best. They’ll try him at guard at some point.