The Washington Commanders made some more roster moves before today’s practice. We also got to hear from Senior Director of Player Personnel Eric Stokes who talked about roster cuts, and also scouting the upcoming college football season. Ron Rivera spoke to reporters after practice and provided some updates on injuries to Chase Young and Efe Obada.
LIVE: Coach Rivera speaks to the media after the final practice of the week https://t.co/9YdPKF7YO3— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 31, 2023
Coach Ron Rivera, when asked by reporters in Ashburn about Chase Young's status: pic.twitter.com/3pPtX4CLoy— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 31, 2023
The biggest thing I can tell you is the guy’s practicing, doing everything we need him to do right now as he’s getting ready for the opener. No idea what the doctor’s going to do, but I do know right now that he’s told him he can continue to progress and get himself ready to go. Until then, there’s nothing that we can tell you. Nothing we can say. We’ll have the medical report come out on Wednesday.
The roster compared to other years:
I think it’s pretty good. I really do. I think we’re pretty solidified on where we are as a defense. I like the guys up front. I think our front line is solid. It’s sound. We were the number three defense last year. That was a real good indication of how good we can be if we play the game that we’re capable of.
Offensively, I like the things that we’ve done. I like decisions that we’ve made on the players. Our offensive line, we feel has really come together nicely. We’ve got decent depth there. It’s a little untried because it’s young, but it’s a young group and we feel good that they’ll continue to grow and get better.
We like the skill positions. We like where we are at tight end with Logan back out on the football field. I think that completes our group at tight end. I think our running backs have shown they’re young, stout, powerful guys that have some good quickness, some good ball skills, and are willing to stick their faces in there and protect the quarterback.
I like the wide receiver group. I think it’s led by Terry. He’s a solid veteran guy who’s been an all-pro player for us and we just feel good that he’s got a good group of guys behind him with Jahan, Curtis, Dyami coming along and Pringle really stepping in for us and helping us out. We have the pieces that we’re looking for. We just feel comfortable.
Area Sam Howell has grown the most:
Alright, so for the hundredth first time. Honestly, I’m really pleased with his overall growth and development. His command of the offense really has come along very nicely. When you first watch guys get into the system and I know how hard it is to learn and grow within it, but you see it.
His decision making is probably one of the really good things that he’s done. He protects the ball for the most part. He understands how important it is to protect the ball.
That’s one thing that I know I talked about a lot last year, especially with you guys, was about his footwork. I think his footwork has come a long way. I really do. I think he understands the importance of proper footwork, proper timing in your footwork. If you have a five step drop you can’t get there too quick because if you’re there too quick, now you’re waiting on the guy. If you’re too late, you’re going to deliver the ball behind him where we can’t make a play. He’s understood how important that is to get that down, to get that timing down.
He’s got a terrific arm and he knows how to use it. That’s the thing that’s been real interesting, is in terms of, he can zip it in there. He can put a little touch on it. He can put a little more arc on it, hang it out there, or he can just put it on a line. When to use that is another thing that he’s learning and growing and getting really good at. There’s been a lot of areas,
Comfort level with the defensive line after early injuries:
Very good. Those two guys gone we’re going to count on a veteran guy in Abdullah Anderson to step up and help out and then Benning Potoa’e. I hope I said that right. I apologize Benning. He is guy that we may have to pop up depending on what happens. We’re going to rely a little bit on the young guys to help round out the rest of that group.
We like the backups. We think James Smith-Williams and Casey are very capable guys. A year ago, when those guys were playing a lot, they contributed to where we ended up as a defense. We feel good about what we’ve done and just knowing that we have a chance to get, eventually at some point, getting both Efe and Phidarian out there. I’m pretty comfortable with that.
Jack Del Rio:
Rivera discussed how Jack Del Rio has evolved as a DC, some of that goes back to using more of the zone match coverages. "If you don't grow and change and adapt you'll be extinct soon. The league evolves and if you don't keep you, you struggle."— John Keim (@john_keim) August 31, 2023
I’ll tell you, when we first got started, you know, obviously, it was a little different circumstances, you could really see it. He was getting back into the groove, into the swing of things because he had been out and I think as every year has come, he’s handled a different situation, different set of circumstances.
Having instant success and then, you know, we struggled a little bit our second year and he took it really personally. He came out and I told you guys that I really appreciated the way he started that meeting last year about the guys basically, ‘Hey, what happened last year was not good enough and that was on us. We approached it the wrong way.’
This year I love the way he started again, just basically, ‘Hey, just because we were where we were, doesn’t mean we can get back. We’ve got to work to get back.’ He’s had a great impact on our guys this year. I really think it started the right way and that’s been a huge plus.
Del Rio’s schematics:
I think the biggest thing is getting it installed initially, now putting the nuances to it, the toolbox, the things that they can use for the different coverages that we have. You know, we play a zone match principle. We play Basic 2, we play Tampa 2, we play quarter quarter halves, we play halves quarter quarter.
He has the ability to do those things with these guys now and it’s kind of interesting because and I am going to compare him to Jim Johnson who I was fortunate enough to have coached for. You know, he’s got a little bit of feel, in my opinion, that way because that’s when I was with Jim, that’s how the defense evolved. It was get the basics installed, you know, work it the next year, throw out whatever doesn’t work, and then, hey, let’s refine where we are.
I think that’s where we are. We’re at the point where we are refining it and he’s going to cut these guys loose. So, it’s been exciting to watch. It has, and I think that’s a great conversation right there because if I really think about it, that’s kind of the comparison I would make.
Culture fit versus football talent when developing a roster:
Well, you always think that if you have a good locker room, you can have whoever you want in there because the players will handle it. You know, we’ve done that, we’ve been around that before and I think our locker room is in a very good place. I think having guys come in and get them to understand what our guys are all about, what we’re all about, what our culture is, and if it’s strong and it’s sturdy, it can withstand that, it can adapt, it can get players to adapt to it and those that just won’t or just can’t, you do have to move on. You really do.
You know, Bill Walsh used to say, there’s a put-up rule. You can put up with only so much, but the reason you can is because you’ve got a good strong locker room. I was paraphrasing there, but, you know, along those lines that’s basically what it’s about because if the room is good, it’s strong, then you can bring a guy in that you know, is going to have to learn to assimilate and for the most part they will.
Preparing for the Arizona Cardinals:
Well, you prepare for what you see through training camp, their preseason games and then you prepare for where they’re from, you know, knowing what they are, knowing who they are defensively from having been in Philadelphia, knowing where their coordinator is on the offensive side.
You’ll prepare for what he was last with, but you’ll also keep in mind a little bit of that flavor from where the head coach is from. You know, he is from Philadelphia, we know there’s an RPO program that they run and we know there’s certain type of running game they use, certain type of passing game they use, their play action game.
You know, you look at the two quarterbacks that they have, they’re similar, but they’re different. So, we take a lot of that into account in fact that Jack and I had that conversation today. And so, Jack’s on top of it. I know their staff is on top of it. So, I think we’ll be ready.
Rivera said Efe Obada is dealing with an issue in his patella; said trying to get the knee to calm down; going to see a doctor for a second opinion but said it'll be a short-term IR situation.— John Keim (@john_keim) August 31, 2023
LIVE: Senior director of player personnel Eric Stokes speaks to the media https://t.co/IeTxluIJlh— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 31, 2023
Making final cuts:
It’s been a great process all the way around. It’s been a collaborative process. It’s been great working with coaching the staff. We had some really intense, healthy conversations as it pertains to the roster because you always first, you know, have to start internally before you start looking to the outside. And, so we had several meetings with our coaching staff just as a personnel group and then we really rounded that out with meeting with the coordinators. You have to make those hard decisions as you get down to the 53. You’re really always balancing, look, what do we have as it pertains to the roster and what do we have in terms of looking outside the roster. So, it’s a tough mix. There’s a lot of tough decisions that went into that, but no, it was a very smooth and fluid process.
Process of making the practice squad:
I think as you kind of break down your roster, when it’s all said and done, you’re really looking at, okay, look, we have to fill out, let’s get the absolute best 53 players that we can. And then it’s almost like you’re looking at a whole separate roster in terms of, now let’s get the best 16 options that we can that are gonna help sustain us as we go through the season. And then obviously as we have holes that happen to come in, and then you’re gonna once again, be balancing as we go through the year, veteran options from the outside versus internal options that we have at our practice squad, so that’s really how it all comes together. It’s again a continuing balancing act in terms of 53, practice squad and really having it all meshed together.
Certainly, excited though about some of the young talent like Mitchell Tinsley for example, that did some excellent things as we went through this entire process. I mean, literally from day one, as you go back to as we had our rookie meeting camp to progressing all the way through the training camp and preseason. So of course, we have those types of stories that come out of it.
Finalizing the roster:
No, you know, that’s a thing about when you’re doing the 53, because you’re always matching positions. So, you can say, look, there, we had a lot of depth at the defensive line room but then when did you get into the 53-man roster, now you’re matching defensive line versus linebackers, linebackers versus DBs. How many are you gonna carry? 10 here? Are you gonna carry 11 there? And then not to mention then you have to also look at the other side of the ball and how does that relate to the number of receivers you have versus the number of defensive linemen. And so, there’s all these different mixing and matching parts that take place when it comes to putting together the 53 and that’s really why it makes it so difficult. It’s not really looking at a position just in a vacuum. You have to look at the totality of the roster and how things match and how they balance out.
Looking into the future when forming a roster:
It absolutely plays a role. You have to look both short term and long term when you’re establishing the roster. And every 53-man roster is going to have a mix of veterans that you’re going to be counting on every week as you go through the season. And you’re going to have a mix of young talent that maybe isn’t ready to help you week one. But you know, as you go through the year, as they grow and as they develop, they’re going to have roles where they’re able to contribute.
And then you balance that out with the practice squad, where you may have some young guys that you’re excited about that maybe they’re just a tick further away from a developmental standpoint. But as we get into week six, as we get into week seven, as we have injuries that take place, it’s a very long season. Ultimately, they have an opportunity to come up and contribute to the roster as well.
Building a roster around a QB with a little experience:
Well, I think we’ve done a lot of those things in place. Obviously, you saw what we’ve done with the offensive line with the addition of Andrew bringing in Nick Gates. I think the transition from Sam to tackle to guard is great. And then obviously, we’ve had a battle at the guard spot and with Saahdiq and Chris Paul, and they’ve both done an outstanding job and Saahdiq has had a fantastic camp.
As you look at how you build around the quarterback, the number one rule is let’s keep the quarterback upright. We’re in the league where look, at the end of the day, it’s about knocking down the quarterback and protecting the quarterback when it’s really just that simple.
And then I think we’ve put some explosive pieces around Sam as well with our receiver corps and with our tight end group. And then certainly with Eric coming in with his offense. I think we have a creative offense, It’s going to be explosive. I think it’s going to be balanced and so really excited about seeing how all those pieces come together as we get ready to kick things off here against Arizona.
Pro and college staff:
It’s really interesting because this is an extremely busy time for our pro staff right now and really as we speak right now, what they’re doing is we’re just now getting into that phase where we are going to start setting our emergency boards as we get ready to go through the year. So that will consist of guys that we’ve been tracking all through the preseason. You’ll really have a mix of young guys that you’re looking to possibly have for workout lists. You’ll have a mix of veterans that you may look to sign or that you want to work out. You’ll also start to build out the practice squad rosters and you’ll evaluate other teams practice squads as they come out. And then you’ll also rank and stack those and then you’ll look for potential poaches or options that we need to do as we look for possibilities externally versus internally. As we even move further into it, they’ll start their advanced scouting so that’s a busy time for them.
Our college scouts have already been out on the road for a month. Right now we typically use this month of August as a time for really extensive character and background information. And obviously they’re watching the practices and we’re right now kind of filtering, sorting through kind of first looks in terms of all the work that we did going back to May. Because again, for us, this is really a continuous process. It really doesn’t stop. So for those guys, they’ve been out on the road we’ll get ready to kick off the college football season here shortly, and we’ll get into some games and then we’ll get more into the evaluation aspect of it. But for right now, a great deal of what they’ve been doing is just research. So that’s really how the two come together and that’s really how it blends.
Low percentage of players claimed on the waiver wire after roster cuts:
A couple things. One, the whole league, it was amazing really how this played out. But Chris and our pro staff did a fantastic job of scouring the league. I mean, we really were ahead of it. We took a great deal of pride in being out in front and not being reactionary to what we’re having things happen I thought we had a very good pulse and lay of the land in terms of how teams would make their roster moves and how things would shake out when it was all said and done. And so for us, we really were not surprised by what took place. We really identified spot on really the potential names that we were tracking and seeing that was interesting in terms of potential claims for us.
What I would really say though, the reason why you don’t take a lot of flyers is because it’s much easier to know what you have from within than to go from the outside. And so that’s why as you really look at what happens in terms of the practice squads, you don’t see a lot of turnover. The truth of the matter is, is that you’re really building a 16-man roster. It’s not just truly the 53, it’s really that additional 16 that you know you’re going to be bringing back. So again, there’s kind of two different rosters that you’re putting together, and that’s why you don’t see a lot of turnover.
Difficulties scouting the Arizona Cardinals with a new head coach and no starting QB:
There are certainly some challenges with that. You kind of are able to match the coaching staffs. As you look at the coaching staffs, that usually takes you kind of to where some of the philosophies of what you can anticipate. Certainly, it does present challenges because they haven’t shown a lot. Obviously, we’re trying to figure out some things in terms of what they may do schematically. But again, I think when it’s really all said and done we just have to take care of ourselves. The focus is really about what we’re doing and you really can’t stress too much about what you don’t know. What you can do is you can take care of business, in terms of understanding what we need to do as a staff and what our players need to do.
Scouting on-field talent for a college prospect:
In terms of how that kind of plays out, that can vary. Obviously, our top level prospects, they’re going to have a minimum of four to five. As we get to the draft, as it gets to the process later on and as we get ready to get out to get on the road, once we’re really able to identify some of the top-rated prospects, we will have many sets of eyes on those guys. Rarely have there been too many of the top-level guys that either Marty, myself, Tim Gribble, our director of college scouting, or both our national scouts, Dave Winnington or Jeff Beathard haven’t seen. Obviously in addition to the primary area scouts. We’ll get multiple looks on top rated prospects and certainly the guys that fall within that top 100, top 150 are going to have multiple looks. We take a great deal of pride in in that.
Another good note from Eric Stokes on Eric Bieniemy: "He's an excellent listener."— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) August 31, 2023
Eric’s been fantastic. Obviously, we brought in Wylie, we brought in Pringle. I think the one thing that is also missed on Eric is that he’s a fantastic listener. It’s not just communication that is one way. He also does a great job of listening. I think when you combine those two it’s been seamless. It’s been easy to work with EB and actually it’s a joy. I love getting in, having those conversations with him and he has the same bulldog mindset as all of us. I love that competitive spirit about him and I love his interest in the personnel.
The great thing also is that he’s really excited about the players that he’s working with. He praised just a couple of days ago about how hardworking the group is. It’s a smart group, it’s a group that is really eager to learn and they love to work. It’s been a complete pleasure to work with him.
A good fit:
No, I think this has been just different steps. As we go back to when he came in for the draft process, as we talk about our free agency process, that’s the one thing we have input all the way around when it comes to the decisions that we make organizationally. They’re not just about one person or just in a vacuum. We take a lot of pride in getting everybody’s opinions and getting as much information as we can and then making decisions from an organizational standpoint.
TE Logan Thomas, DE Chase Young and CB Kendall Fuller out here stretching. No Terry McLaurin (no surprise; was in a boot until Tues. need to keep off feet as much as possible this week. Don’t see WR Dax Milne out here.— John Keim (@john_keim) August 31, 2023
LB Cody Barton and S Jeremy Reaves are not at practice because of an illness.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 31, 2023