The Commanders have felt their tight ends are good enough for months now, so much so that they declined to draft one or sign a veteran in free agency.
“We got a good group of young players there,” General Manager Martin Mayhew said in March. “They all have a bunch of upside.”
But in Bieniemy’s offense, the Commanders are banking on more than potential. And so far in training camp, perhaps no position has made quite the turnaround in value as tight end, a group that has been ravaged by injuries and used sparingly over the past two years.
The group is a focal point of Bieniemy’s West Coast system, which he helped run with Kansas City under Coach Andy Reid. Replicating the talent of Travis Kelce, one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history, is all but impossible. But Bieniemy can try to mirror much of Reid’s scheme and the depth and versatility of his tight ends corps.
“We’re just put into a lot of positions that we didn’t really get into the last couple of years,” tight end John Bates said of his experience in the new offense. “Really, we could be at any spot on the field now running routes, just like receivers are running routes, not really limited to a couple routes. Everyone I think knows how explosive the Chiefs’ offense was and what they were able to do.”
CB Emmanuel Forbes
The first-rounder has been everywhere. Although his weight has raised eyebrows (he was listed at 173 pounds after the draft but is up to 180), Forbes has been a constant disrupter on the back end. He needs to get healthy, though: Rivera said Forbes tweaked his groin in practice Friday, and he did not participate in any of the team periods Sunday.
CB Benjamin St-Juste
The third-year player has had one of his best camps, showing his growth and versatility. He has been the starting nickelback with the first-team defense but has shifted outside when Forbes or Kendall Fuller is out.
LB Jamin Davis
After finishing strong last season, the 2021 first-rounder hasn’t popped during 11-on-11 play and has at times rotated with Khaleke Hudson. Davis also missed one practice as he appeals a reckless driving conviction.
OL Saahdiq Charles
The Commanders gave the first shot at filling the hole at left guard to Charles, the fourth-year lineman who hasn’t reached his potential because of injuries and inconsistency. Charles suffered a calf strain days into camp, and he has since been replaced by second-year guard Chris Paul.
The Washington Commanders have released their first unofficial depth chart ahead of their preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
The Commanders will travel to Cleveland for their only road game of the preseason. The game will be televised on NBC4 with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
There are few surprises in the Commanders’ first iteration of the unofficial depth chart. As expected, Sam Howell is listed as the starter with Jacoby Brissett as his backup. Emmanuel Forbes is listed as the starting cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller with Benjamin St-Juste as the starting slot corner.
On the offensive line, Saahdiq Charles is listed as the starting left guard, although he has been limited in practice because of a calf injury. Dax Milne is listed as the starting punt returner, and Antonio Gibson is slated as the starting kickoff returner.
In the first two weeks of Washington Commanders training camp, one of the most impressive players on the field was rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. He played bigger than his 6-foot, 180-pound frame and older than his 22 years. He showed physicality on short routes, speed on deeper ones and instincts on all of them. He held his own against the team’s top wide receivers, Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson, and prompted a pressing question:
What are realistic expectations for Forbes’s rookie year?
The answer is important. Despite the flaws of projection, despite the variance of opinions, the answer is an attempt to cut through the unavoidable, nearsighted hype machine of camp. It’s an attempt to establish reasonable expectations, to advance the discussion beyond, “Well, let’s just see how it plays out.” The Commanders had a clear, explicit goal when they used their first-round pick on Forbes: to shore up a strong defense that struggled to take the ball away last year, ranking 26th in the NFL with 18 takeaways.
Most critically, the answer is an attempt to make concrete the team’s hopes, to establish rough parameters for success or failure, which are not always quantifiable. But quantifiable results — Washington’s nine defensive interceptions in 2022, Forbes’s 14 picks in his three-year college career — are what helped lead team to player.
Major improvements are needed across the Commanders offensive line in 2023.
The Commanders last won the NFC East in 2020, largely on the differential between their offensive line and the rest. That season, both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas suffered debilitating injuries across their protection, and the New York Giants were just plain awful.
Now, the Eagles and the Cowboys are relatively healthy and the Giants have completely rebuilt. The Commanders, meanwhile, have allowed their offensive line to deteriorate.
Washington is now decidedly behind the other teams in the NFC East. If this year’s edition can begin to show improvement, that will go a long way toward making the Commanders competitive.
So what are the realistic expectations for this year’s line, as currently constructed. We’ll go alphabetically:
Saahdiq Charles - Commanders OL
There have been some positive reports about Saahdiq Charles this off-season. With the recent release of Andrew Norwell, he should be first in line to take over as the team’s left guard.
Charles is entering his fourth season with the Washington Commanders and is still just 24 years old. This is a make-or-break season for the former Alabama lineman.
BEST CASE: Charles starts 17 games at left guard and grades out higher than either Norwell or Trai Turner did in 2022.
WORST CASE: Washington pulls the plug on yet another failed draft pick and Charles does not make the final 53-man roster. Something that is unlikely but cannot be dismissed after yet more injury woes.
REALISTIC CASE: I am not sold on Charles. He was so young when he entered the league and it was apparent he would need several years to develop. But it hasn’t happened yet.
We have barely seen flashes. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I see one final season as a backup and emergency starter, and then the end of his time in Washington.
Khaleke Hudson is entering his fourth season with the Washington Commanders.
The Washington Commanders are looking for some juice from the linebackers group.
Someone who could quench that thirst is fourth-year pro Khaleke Hudson, who has continued to grow throughout his tenure in Washington.
“I thought Khaleke has done some really good things,” Rivera said. “He’s flying around. Very positive attitude. Very good approach to everything and he’s learning more than just the one position now. You know, and in light of some of the things he did last year, especially in the last game of the season. We’ve noticed. We’ve noticed an improvement and we’ve noticed a guy also just playing with confidence as well.”
DC Sports King
Washington Commanders tight end Logan Thomas missed his third straight practice on Monday. Thomas is dealing with a calf injury. Following practice, head coach Ron Rivera said Thomas is “slowly” progressing.
“He’s a guy that we want to be careful with, first and foremost,” Rivera said, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post. “The thing that we got to be aware of is just he’s an older guy. He is coming off an injury. Yes, it was two seasons ago, but you can’t be too careful, especially in this situation. And in this offense, knowing how vital the tight end is to this offense, we got to be very smart about that.”
Logan Thomas, 32, suffered a torn ACL in December 2021 on a low chop block by then-Raiders pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Thomas rehabbed and was able to return in time for the start of last season.
The Commanders offense has not only been having to do battle against a defense that was a top-10 NFL defense in 2022, but the offense is also a step slow, with the added psychological weight of having to think through and trying to learn the new offense being installed by former Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Consider the offensive line. They are not only going up against Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Chase Young and their backups. The offensive line is having to learn new steps, new techniques in both passing and run blocking as well as new plays of which they may not be accustomed.
Having the day off Saturday permitted them time to be off of their feet, replenish with plenty of electrolytes and even get in some mental study of the new offense they are learning.
Bullock’s Film Room
Breaking down the Commanders’ 5-1 defensive front, how it was used last year and what we might see from it going into this season.
One of the storylines of Washington Commanders training camp so far has been the dominance of the defense, especially the defensive line. The starting unit of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Chase Young and Montez Sweat have reportedly been giving the starting offensive line a lot of issues which has at times meant the starting offense has had to play the second team defense in order to get their work in.
One of the defensive packages that appears to be causing the most issues is the “Cinco” package, where the defense uses five defensive lineman, five defensive backs and just one linebacker in between them. This can also be referred to as a 5-1-5 package.
Last year, the Commanders used this Cinco package in games where they were struggling against the run, particularly against teams with a tendency towards zone style runs. With a more traditional 4-2-5 (four defensive lineman, two linebackers, five defensive backs) nickel package, zone runs can be very effective as the offensive line is able to generate double teams up front and get lineman to work up to the second level to block the linebackers.
This package was particularly effective as a response to teams running lots of zone scheme runs. However, it did have a few issues defending gap scheme runs. Zone scheme runs are about creating double teams and moving defenders horizontally to open vertical running lanes. Gap scheme runs are different. They focus on pinning defenders inside and pulling blockers to different parts of the line in order to create extra gaps. This requires linebackers to read and react quickly in order to fill the newly created gaps. When you have multiple linebackers, this is manageable, but when you’re running a 5-1 front with just one linebacker, it can become an issue.
It helped them defend zone runs against teams that were able to generate double teams up front, but they couldn’t use it as their main package because gap scheme teams could exploit it. This year, however, the primary use of it could be quite different. Reports from training camp suggest this package is being used more as a pressure package against the pass than as a run defense package.
What is “enough” in 2023? Is it the Commanders finishing with a winning record, reaching the postseason and perhaps contending in the NFC? That might require the new ownership to keep Rivera and his coaching staff/front office around. Looking at Howell through this lens — and considering there is a new offensive coordinator and a shaky offensive line — is a far dicier proposition.
We know all the camp caveats, like the lack of game planning, an actual run game or experimentation. In this case, there is also the learning of a new system. These aren’t excuses but rather realities Howell faces. Asked Sunday about what he’s most looking forward to watching in the preseason opener against the Browns on Friday, Rivera answered, “Well, other than the quarterback …”
Howell makes a number of mistakes with reads at the line and throwing into coverage. There are some wildly inaccurate throws. If we viewed him like we did the 2022 Week 1 starter, Carson Wentz, the gaffes would take center stage in any evaluation.
That’s a bizarre comp that nobody should make. But in the context of competing with three NFC East teams coming off playoff seasons, Howell’s ability to lift the offense despite flaws is paramount. Brissett isn’t considered a difference-maker league-wide, or he would have signed a free-agent deal far more significant than $8 million for one season. Washington gave Brissett more money than anyone else in his tier this offseason in case Howell bombed in camp or over the first month of the season.
A slow start — which is an unwanted but three-year-running tradition — might have Rivera calling the bullpen. That is, if the playoffs are the primary goal. Everyone would say they are, of course. If they ignore the lack of experience in the most critical position, that is.
With punter Tress Way battling some back tightness at the moment, the Washington Commanders are making a move at the position. According to Nicki Jhablava of the Washington Post, the Commanders are signing punter Colby Wadman.
Wadman first got a crack at the NFL in 2018 when he signed with the Raiders in the offseason but he spent the season with the Broncos, playing 12 games and punting it 65 times for 2,905 yards. He remained with Denver in 2019 but has not played a regular-season game since then.
Kalu, 27, played collegiately at Nebraska and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Titans in 2018. He spent three seasons in Tennessee and signed with the New York Giants ahead of the 2021 season. He tore his pectoral muscle in the first preseason game and missed the entire season.
He re-signed with the Titans in 2022, where he played 15 games, recording 16 tackles and a forced fumble. Pro Football Focus gave Kalu a run-stopping grade of 93.5 in 2022 in just under 500 defensive snaps.
it’s important, even paramount, to say that I don’t see them going back to the old name. Period.”
However, that doesn’t mean Josh Harris and company won’t find a way to rebrand the franchise that allows for a callback to the old days of Washington football.
“I recognize there are a lot of folks who want the name to go back,” Finlay said. “I also understand the evolution of language and symbols, and as our world evolves, things change.”
Episode 627 - Are #Commanders' offensive struggles in camp worrisome or to be expected? I discuss this, the chippiness & much more off comments from Ron Rivera on Friday & Sunday.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 7, 2023
I also talk #ALLCAPS' extension w/ Tom Wilson & #Nats' & #Orioles' sweeps.https://t.co/UL5eDh34qE
Daily Commanders Update for 7 Aug— RefTheDistrict (@RefTheDistrict) August 7, 2023
- Jacoby Brissett takes Command of the first string offense
- Camp battles of the non-fist fight variety
- Are the alarms going off after 4(!) missed practices for Logan Thomas?
This and more. Check it out!https://t.co/CG0LcqWF2M#HTTC pic.twitter.com/cdEp6wYNQj
some Monday afternoon reading for ya after Day 11— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 7, 2023
Game week, which means first unofficial depth chart of the season ⤵️— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 7, 2023
NFC East links
Blogging the Boys
The Dallas Cowboys have extended another player in their secondary.
Over the past two seasons with Dan Quinn as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Cowboys defense has accumulated 42 interceptions. This is a huge turnaround from the years under Rod Marinelli as defensive coordinator, when it felt like a rare occurrence to come away with an interception.
CB Trevon Diggs and CB Stephon Gilmore give the Cowboys a truly elite duo at the outside corner position. Both All-Pro talented players who can shut opposing wide receivers out of the game, while coming away with crucial interceptions. Having CB Daron Bland in the slot adds even more talent in the room, as he led the team in interceptions in his rookie year last season with five.
While the Cowboys are loaded at cornerback, the team also has incredible depth at the safety position. Safeties Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse, and Malik Hooker provide a three-headed monster guarding the back-end of the defense. Sure, neither of them are in the conversation of the best safety in the league. However, try finding a team with three players at the position as good and well-rounded as these three.
Big Blue View
Let’s assess who has done well in camp, and who has not, thus far
Darnay Holmes — We spent a considerable amount of offseason time discussing the fact that the cap-needy Giants could save roughly $2.7 million against the cap by cutting Holmes.
The rise of Hawkins and the use of Adoree’ Jackson in the slot at times could be bad news for Holmes, who has seen some third-team reps.
Bobby McCain — The veteran safety appears to have lost the starting safety job to Pinnock. McCain has played six special teams snaps over the past three seasons, and hasn’t played regularly on those units since 2017. That calls into question whether he can take up a roster if he is a backup who doesn’t help on special teams.
#Giants WR Sterling Shepard joins us on Inside Training Camp Live to talk about the team’s new offensive weapons, his return from an ACL injury and why he landed on coach Brian Daboll’s most recent “teach tape.” pic.twitter.com/iJ3B0RZB4P— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 7, 2023
NFL league links
Antonio Gibson, RB, Commanders
Gibson’s usage in Washington hasn’t made much sense. Drafted out of Memphis as a slot receiver and gadget player with 34 college carries, he didn’t land the receiving role his skill set would have suggested. He has about as many carries (574) as routes run (613) over his first three seasons. Compare that to Austin Ekeler, who might be Gibson’s best-case outcome: Ekeler has run nearly twice as many routes (1,014) than he has carries (526) over that same time frame.
Let’s get a third back in the mix and talk about Jerick McKinnon, who ran 318 routes and caught nine touchdown passes while taking just 72 carries last season. The Commanders aren’t going to throw the ball near as often as the Chiefs, but new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy seems set to carve out more of a passing role for Gibson, who ceded that work to J.D. McKissic at times in Washington. The McKinnon role might not be three-down work for a player in the final year of his deal, but Gibson could be a valuable free agent if he establishes himself as a passing-down back.
Javier Loya, a part-owner of the Houston Texans, is facing rape and sexual abuse charges in Kentucky, according to court records.
Loya faces one count of first-degree rape, five counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of third-degree sexual abuse, according to online records for Jefferson County (Ky.) Circuit Court. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 22.
“We are aware of the serious charges filed in the Commonwealth of Kentucky against Javier Loya, one of our outside limited partners,” the Texans said in a statement. “We have agreed with Mr. Loya that while these charges are pending, he will remove himself entirely from any team or League activities.”
Loya denied the allegations through his attorney, Andrew J. Sarne.