ASHBURN, Va. -- The Commanders rookies are now more than a week into their first NFL training camp, not nearly long enough to make any significant conclusions about what they'll contribute this year but long enough to have some early impressions.
Washington brought in seven rookies in April's draft -- three on offense, four on defense -- and their top two selections in particular were brought in with immediate specific roles in mind. After that, the team looked for depth in key areas and developmental projects. As such, these impressions are relative to the role the Commanders envision for each player.
Drafted: 1st round (16th overall) out of Mississippi State
Anticipated role: Potential starting cornerback who will play a lot
Impressions: The debate of whether Forbes will actually "start" or not really shouldn't be much of a debate. When the Commanders have their top three cornerbacks on the field, Forbes will be there opposite Kendall Fuller on the outside, and Benjamin St.-Juste will be in the slot -- at least based on what we've seen at training camp.
Forbes is getting a trial by fire and handling it well. He has been matched up a lot with Terry McLaurin and generally held his own. He's had tight coverage on several short throws and has also had some impressive breakups deep downfield against Dyami Brown and Byron Pringle.
"He's a very smart, diligent young man when it comes to learning and trying to learn," Ron Rivera said. "He's got tremendous study habits. He does the things that he needs to do to put himself in position and then when you watch the way he plays, you see how he plays. He practices the way I believe he's gonna play and that's hard and smart."
Forbes was 166 pounds at the NFL Combine and is listed at 173 pounds -- he says his ideal weight is 170 to 180 -- and his slim build stands out. So, too, though, do his length (79-inch wingspan, fifth among defensive backs at the combine) and speed (4.35 40-yard dash, tied for third). On one deep pass in one-on-ones, Brown beat Forbes initially, but Forbes recovered just enough to get within arm's length and grab one of Brown's hands as the ball arrived, forcing him into a one-handed attempt. If officials had been present, it may have been pass interference, but it was close.
Forbes holds the FBS record with six career pick-sixes, and that was a huge reason the Commanders selected him after recording just nine interceptions last year, 28th in the NFL. Forbes is very aggressive, so balancing that aggression with big-play prevention will be a learning process -- exactly what training camp is for.
Drafted: 2nd round (47th overall) out of Illinois
Anticipated role: Do-it-all defensive back
Impressions: The biggest indication of "Quan'' Martin's role is seen on the team's official roster: He's the only one listed as a defensive back, rather than a cornerback or safety. The Illinois product played nearly 500 snaps in the slot, nearly 200 snaps at safety, over 70 snaps at outside corner and over 30 snaps at linebacker in his final year with the Illini.
"D-line?" Martin guessed Thursday when asked what's the one position he's never played. "[In little league] I was playing running back, linebacker, safety ... I was pretty much doing everything. It kind of just carried over throughout my whole career, and I've always been that flexible guy."
Martin has been busy throughout training camp rotating in with different groups, and he seems to be near the ball a ton, which is what the Commanders want.
Drafted: 3rd round (97th overall) out of Arkansas
Anticipated role: Backup interior lineman
Impressions: Stromberg has earned second-team reps behind Nick Gates at center -- where Stromberg played his last three seasons at Arkansas. Stromberg has been mostly solid in one-on-one reps between, too, and him getting second-team reps shows good progress.
"I have great vets leading me," Stromberg said. "It's easy to just watch them and kind of follow what they do. They set a great example. Everything's been going really good so far, I've been enjoying the whole transition."
Drafted: 4th round (118th overall) out of Utah
Anticipated role: Developmental tackle
Impressions: The Commanders selected Daniels as a project, and he looks the part. There are some reps where his size, agility and athleticism are apparent, but there are other reps where he struggles to maintain his balance and his foundation. In the final rep of one-on-ones Wednesday, Daniels was overpowered by James Smith-Williams and ended up on the ground. Earlier in the session, William Bradley-King won two of three reps against Daniels, who is playing with the third team. Still, it's very early, and Daniels is expected to take some time to develop, either at tackle or potentially at guard.
Drafted: 5th round (137th overall) out of Clemson
Anticipated role: Developmental edge and (maybe) situational contributor
Impressions: Henry's length and speed -- the two things that stood out in college -- stand out at times in camp, too. He's had some moments in 11-on-11 drills and one-on-ones as well, including several battles with Daniels. Henry is in a crowded room, though, behind starters Chase Young and Montez Sweat and established backups James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Efe Obada.
Drafted: 6th round (193rd overall) out of Kentucky
Anticipated role: Rotational third back with power
Impressions: Rodriguez had likely his best day of camp Wednesday, when he had a pair of bursts on runs up the middle in 11-on-11 drills with the second unit. He later scored a touchdown on a swing pass on the starters' final play of 11-on-11, stumbling into the end zone from a few yards out. Rodriguez also had a nifty one-handed catch in warmups that drew some "ooh"s and "aah"s from the crowd.
Rodriguez is clearly third in the pecking order behind Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson, but his power and improved pass-catching skills could earn him a (small) role. He'll likely see a ton of preseason work alongside Jonathan Williams and others.
Drafted: 7th round (233rd overall) out of Louisiana
Anticipated role: Developmental edge and (maybe) situational contributor
Impressions: Jones is in the same boat as Henry in terms of playing arguably the Commanders' deepest position, but the seventh-rounder has popped a few times, especially with a good spin move he used to get past against veteran Cornelius Lucas on Wednesday. Jones also got stopped cold on a couple of reps against Alex Akingbulu on Tuesday. Jones, Henry and Bradley-King will be vying for roster spots and playing time.
Drafted: Undrafted free agent
Anticipated role: Depth at guard
Impressions: Training camp is a proving ground for the less-established players, and Brooks is taking full advantage. The undrafted rookie from Ole Miss (and previously Western Kentucky) was a standout onand again on -- the two days pads have been on -- and is getting work with the second team.
"I think I've been able to show I'm a competitor," Brooks said. "As a free agent, you've got to come in with a chip on your shoulder, I think, and that's kind of been my mantra my whole career."
A lightly recruited two-star prospect out of high school, Brooks said he was only 250 pounds at the time and first had to focus on gaining weight to compete at the collegiate level. He was listed at 315 pounds at Ole Miss -- the same as he is now -- but hardly played for the Rebels.
"Not getting as much [playing time] as you wanted, obviously you have to learn off the field 'How am I going to stay better and continue to work and how can I help this team?'" Brooks said. "Just shifted my focus, I think, a little bit but taught me so much, and I'm really thankful for last year and the opportunity that Coach Rivera and this staff have given me here."
Brooks and Stromberg -- teammates at the East-West Shrine Bowl -- were among the final players to leave the practice field Thursday, working side-by-side on different sets with tight ends coach/(unofficial) offensive line guru Juan Castillo and assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton.
"Honestly, the whole rookie class is really tight, which has been a huge blessing," Brooks said.
Day 8 observations
After two days in pads, the Commanders went pad-free in a more relaxed (and much shorter) practice -- essentially a walkthrough in team drills. Here are some quick observations:
- Chris Paul got first-team reps at left guard again with Saahdiq Charles dealing with a calf issue. Also on the injury front, Rivera announced that defensive lineman David Bada tore his triceps Wednesday.
- Playing basically on air, Sam Howell aired the ball out a little bit more and delivered some accurate balls downfield. He had only one incompletion in 11-on-11 settings -- a low ball that Cole Turner could have caught.
- Even in a less intense setting, Eric Bieniemy has plenty of fire. After one pop pass to McLaurin, Bieniemy chewed out the offensive line: "Displace his ass and hit it up inside!"
- Kazmeir Allen has shown the ability to get behind the defense. The 5-foot-9 speedster, who could also return kicks and punts, had a step or two on the defense, but Jacoby Brissett's throw was off-target.
- Marcus Kemp high-pointed a nice pass from Jake Fromm deep in the end zone for a touchdown near the end of practice.