ASHBURN, Va. -- With the Commanders officially one week into training camp, we've been able to form a few takeaways. The biggest one is that Sam Howell -- while in theory "competing" with Jacoby Brissett -- has done nothing to lose his distinction as the top quarterback. He has worked exclusively with the starters and has been solid if unspectacular at most times, but there have been some more uneven performances in there as well.
Wednesday was one of those days. The second-year quarterback wasn't quite as sharp against Washington's talented defense, but a better finish and some wise words from a sage veteran following practice put things in perspective. Here are the biggest observations from a lengthy Commanders practice.
Sam Howell and the offense in 11-on-11
- In the first 11-vs-11 session, Howell had a bunch of quick throws that found some success, with a high miss to Terry McLaurin mixed in.
- The next series featured a string of run plays with little success. That is until offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy lit into his unit, telling players to "get back to the [expletive] huddle" and "stop [expletive] walking." Then Howell had a burst on the left side and Brian Robinson had a good run up the middle featuring a nice cutback through the hole. Rookie Chris Rodriguez Jr. had a pair of strong runs for the second team.
- The starters returned for a red-zone series, and Howell had a couple of bad misses, once low to Robinson and once wide of McLaurin in the end zone. The series ended with a good throw by Howell to Marcus Kemp in the back of the end zone, but Kemp couldn't quite hang on for what would have been a tough catch, and he may not have been in bounds anyway.
- After the offense couldn't punch in a goal-line sequence, it finished in better fashion with Howell finding Robinson for a score and Antonio Gibson plunging in from a few yards out.
- Howell had a stronger finish with accurate tosses to John Bates and Curtis Samuel sandwiching a nice improvisation in which he pump faked, created room and found McLaurin on the run. He also had a really good play in which he extended and then fired a low dart to Dyami Brown in the back of the end zone for a would-be touchdown. However, Brown had stepped out of bounds, resulting in a flag. Howell finished the day with a touchdown on a swing pass to Rodriguez.
What they're saying
- Tight end Logan Thomas provided some valuable perspective on Howell: "He's doing a good job, man. Yeah, you're going to have your bumps and bruises and ... we're playing against a defense that's been together for four years. They don't even have to think about what they're doing. They just break the huddle, they just line up, and they react off of what we do. Sam's still learning everything in this offense, just like the rest of us. He's made his fair share of mistakes just like the rest of us have."
[NOTE: Ron Rivera spoke to the media prior to practice.]
- Rivera also mentioned the defense, now in its fourth year under Jack Del Rio, is "adding the little nuances that you couldn't get initially because you're still learning."
- Rivera continued: "Offensively it could be from everything from getting into formations, that's just probably one of the more important things. And understanding motions and shifts as to why we do those things. Then it is understanding the route combinations. Why am I running this particular route in this particular concept? Those are all the details that these guys are learning in the meetings."
- Rivera explained that getting the ball in playmakers' hands was a big reason he hired Bieniemy.
Offensive line vs. defensive line provides lots of energy again
Now that pads are on, drills between the offensive and defensive line are more telling ... and a whole lot of fun. The defensive line has some of the team's loudest trash-talkers, led by Chase Young and Montez Sweat, while tight ends coach Juan Castillo, who is working mainly with the offensive line for the time being, is more than happy to amp up his own guys. Even defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, who played in the league from 1993-2009 and still looks the part, got fired up, saying his players were getting "right back in the quarterback's lap."
Here were some highlights:
- Sam Cosmi's transition to guard is going well. Pro-Bowl defensive lineman Daron Payne had high praise for Cosmi, and the battles between those two is high-quality stuff. The same goes for Charles Leno Jr. vs. Young on the outside. Young got good push on one of the early reps, but Leno was solid throughout.
- When he got a chance against a backup, Payne beat Mason Brooks with ease. Brooks and was pretty good Wednesday as well, but Payne definitely got him there.
- Chris Paul got starter reps in place of Saahdiq Charles (calf) during 11-on-11, and he had consecutive strong reps against Efe Obada in one-on-ones. Paul's progress could really help the interior line depth.
- Benning Potoa'e beat Aaron Monteiro on consecutive snaps, with Young barking, "weak-ass punk" after the first and taunting "you want it again?" after the second.
- Young certainly brings the noise, but it's not all trash talk. During 11-on-11, he yelled, "I love you, Sam!" to Howell.
- William Bradley-King put in two strong reps against rookie Braeden Daniels. James Smith-Williams also overpowered Daniels on a bull rush to end the period.
Officials arrive in full force
Officials arrived at Commanders training camp Wednesday and were busy throughout practice, calling several pre-snap penalties and a few holds and face masks. That's nothing much to worry about... yet. It's early, pads are on but it's not full tackling, and it was the first day with refs.
Still, it frustrated Bieniemy, who at one point barked at an official to get off the ball so the offense could run a play even though other officials were discussing the Brown out of bounds mentioned above.
Rivera said bringing the refs in would allow players to ask questions about the legality of certain techniques and what they did wrong on flagged plays. He also said the refs would meet with the team after practice to present new rules, take questions and go into specific position rooms so players and coaches could "get as much information as we can."
Odds and ends
- We got our first little dust-up of camp, with Nick Gates and Cody Barton getting into things on a play early in the day after Gates and Khaleke Hudson appeared to get tangled up. McLaurin was among the players who calmed things down.
- Speaking of Barton and Hudson, they look to be top linebacker options alongside Jamin Davis. Barton had some really good moments in 11-on-11 and clearly has a lot of speed. He'll bring the trash talk, too.
- Kendall Fuller didn't take part in team drills, allowing Rachad Wildgoose to get a lot of time with the first team. "My mental understanding of the game and understanding of the defense is extremely better," Wildgoose said when comparing himself now to himself this time last year.
- The special teamers got a chance to kick in front of the team near the end of practice, and it didn't go as planned. Camaron Cheeseman's first snap skidded back to Tress Way. After a better snap, Joey Slye connected. Michael Badgley also made his first attempt. Slye then missed his second attempt, though there looked to be issues with the snap there, too.