Last week, the biggest storyline at Commanders training camp was Sam Howell officially . It's not that there was ever much of a QB battle -- Howell received almost every single first-team rep over Jacoby Brissett throughout camp -- but it was still an announcement that "means a lot" to the second-year signal-caller.
By Friday, the excitement of the Howell news had partially given way to injury issues that are quietly mounting. Jonathan Allen (plantar fasciitis) joined a ahead of Washington's preseason contest against the Ravens on Monday night.
Rivera didn't seem overly concerned about Allen's absence, nor did he stress too much about defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis and tight end Logan Thomas also missing the session, even though both of those absences have stretched for several practices. Mathis hurt his calf in the first preseason contest against the Browns. Thomas missed that contest with his own calf issue. Furthermore, cornerback Kendall Fuller missed practice both Friday and Saturday, and Chase Young hasn't been in team drills since suffering a stinger against Cleveland.
Though the Commanders would obviously prefer a fully healthy group of starters and top rotational players, they also need to round out the back half of the roster. In that regard, there are some key positional groups that bear special attention against Baltimore.
When a coach openly tells you one of the areas he's focused on most, he means it. And Rivera did just that following practice Saturday, saying there are "a few guys that we really want to pay a little bit more attention to" along the offensive line.
The starting unit Andrew Wylie having a particularly tough night. Both Wylie and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. missed parts of practice last week after the Commanders returned from joint practices against the Ravens., with right tackle
On the interior, Samuel Cosmi looks to continue his progress as he transitions from right tackle to right guard.
"The biggest part of it, it's obviously your sets, knowing the guy next to you and across from you and obviously knowing the offense," Cosmi said Saturday. "You take certain steps for this play, you do certain things for this thing, just knowing the playbook, knowing how to adapt to it and being able to use your technique to your advantage in those plays."
The left guard battle between Saahdiq Charles and Chris Paul figures to continue; Charles seems to be the favorite, but his continued nagging health issues have prevented him from fully claiming the spot.
Then comes the depth question. Cornelius Lucas and Trent Scott figure to be the backup tackles, and Tyler Larsen and third-round rookie Ricky Stromberg are likely locks inside. Fourth-round rookie tackle Braeden Daniels has struggled, and the Commanders certainly would like to see progress there. Aaron Monteiro, Mason Brooks and Nolan Laufenberg are potentially battling for one spot.
Going from an area of weakness to an area of undoubted strength, Washington's defensive line should be one of the best in the league. Allen and Daron Payne are both coming off Pro Bowls, Young, now long removed from his major knee injury, is looking to regain his Rookie of the Year form, and Montez Sweat has had a terrific training camp.
This unit also arguably has the best depth of any position on the team, but sorting through that depth could prove a chore. Veterans Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams figured to be top backups on the edges, but seventh-round rookie Andre Jones Jr. has impressed and earned some first-team reps in team drills with Young not participating recently. He needs to continue his push. On the inside, John Ridgeway is a stout run defender. Efe Obada, meanwhile, can play any position along the line and has had a good summer.
But the injuries to Young, Allen and Mathis have thrown a wrench into things. Outside, there will be more opportunities for Jones, fifth-round rookie K.J. Henry and William Bradley-King, and in the middle, Benning Potoa'e, Abdullah Anderson and recently signed Isaiah Mack will try to leave an impression. For this group as a whole, it's time to show they deserve a roster spot.
At full strength, the Commanders want to play Fuller and Emmanuel Forbes on the outside and Benjamin St-Juste in the slot. But with Fuller missing the last two practices, St-Juste moved outside and Rachad Wildgoose joined the first team in the slot. Wildgoose seems best suited for the slot, while Christian Holmes seems almost exclusively an outside player. Then there's the versatile Jartavius Martin, who can play in the slot and at safety -- though it's to be determined how soon the second-round rookie will contribute.
Can Tariq Castro-Fields make the decision a difficult one? The outlook of the group changed after dependable veteran Danny Johnson was by Mark Andrews in a scuffle during joint practices with Baltimore.
The numbers game is a tough one here. In terms of absolute locks, it's Fuller, Forbes and St-Juste, and Holmes seems to be close thereafter. Johnson's status -- which Rivera didn't have an update on Friday -- could be a key factor.
Like cornerback, wide receiver has a clear group of locks. In this case, it's Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown. Then there seems to be a next tier in Byron Pringle. And then it gets tough. Marcus Kemp can contribute on special teams and has experience in Bieniemy's system. Dax Milne is more of a possession receiver, and he also has experience in the return game. Kazmeir Allen is lightning quick and can be a gadget player and returner. Perhaps the name to keep an eye on, though, is undrafted rookie Mitchell Tinsley. Regardless, there's a battle coming here.
How can we not include quarterback? Howell wasand has continued to show good signs in training camp. Rivera wants to continue to see him get the ball out quickly, make good decisions and take command of the huddle. Plus, it's Howell's first game since being named the starter. While Rivera didn't disclose how much the starters will play, it wouldn't be surprising to see Howell get some significant action as he continues to grow.