The Washington Commanders are inching closer to the start of training camp and a critical year for the franchise.
We're just a few days away from the players and reporting to Ashburn after taking some time off. There were high expectations for the team in 2022, and while there were some positives, including a 6-1 stretch to get in playoff contention, it fell short of its goal with an 8-8-1 record. Now, with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator leading the offense, the expectations have continued to rise all offseason.
We're wrapping things up with the quarterback position.
- Carson Wentz
- Taylor Heinicke
- Jacoby Brissett
-- Can Sam Howell earn the right to be the starter: Of all the questions that Washington has entering the 2023 season, whether Sam Howell can be the starting quarterback beyond training camp is one of, if not the biggest.
The win against the Dallas Cowboys last season got the coaches' attention, and he was named "QB1" for the offseason workout program because of it. Howell had the offseason that most would expect for a second-year player, but there was more good than bad in his performances. More importantly, Howell showed growth in areas that Ron Rivera and the team wanted him to work on.
"Some of the decisions he makes out there are really good," Rivera said. "Some of the other ones, he's still learning, still growing and he's shown improvement and that's probably the biggest thing that we're excited about."
Rivera still feels that there is a competition at quarterback, though, and there are some things Howell needs to work on in training camp. Footwork is at the top of the list for Howell, with Rivera saying that it's important for younger players to understand how different it can be at the professional level. Adjusting to the speed of the game is another priority; if there was one area where Howell struggled the most, it would be near the red zone, where plays develop much faster and windows are tighter than anywhere else on the field.
While those areas are going to be stressed to Howell in the coming weeks, Rivera has confidence he will put his full effort into addressing them.
"I really appreciate his work ethic, the way he's really diving into this, the extra work he's putting in," Rivera said.
-- Jacoby Brissett's veteran guidance: Howell will compete with veteran Jacoby Brissett between now and Week 1, and whether Howell earns the job or not, Brissett will be an asset for him and his development.
"I've just been enjoying watching these guys work," said offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. "I've been enjoying the way they communicate, and I've been enjoying...them coming to work and having questions about everything."
Brissett would not have signed with Washington if he didn't believe he had a shot of being the starter. He at least has the ability to do so based on what he showed at his previous stop with the Cleveland Browns. Brissett did his best to keep the Browns in contention while Deshaun Watson served his suspension, completing 64% of his passes for 2,608 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But he also feels that part of his job is being a good teammate, and he has committed himself to providing Howell with guidance.
"It's been a lot of fun," Brissett said. "He's smart, can make all the throws. Been a joy to be around. I know that makes me sound old, but he's been good to be around learn from each other. Competing against each other has just been a lot of fun."
Howell and Brissett understand that their coaches will ultimately do what's best for the team. Brissett is trying to earn the job, and Howell is trying to keep it. Neither have shied away from the competition, but they're approaching it in a way that will elevate each other.
"He understands that, I understand that," Brissett said. "The whole team understands that for their position. I think it's been going well."
-- How will Howell step up as a leader: Assuming Howell earns the starting job for Week 1 and beyond, he will need to prove he can direct the offense and be a leader to his teammates. That's an area he has locked down, and the Commanders have been impressed with his leadership.
"I think Sam has a real quiet confidence about him," Terry McLaurin said. "He's not gonna tell people what to do, but he knows what he's doing when he gets out on the field."
Confidence is not a new trait for Howell, nor is McLaurin surprised that he has conviction in how he handles himself on the field. That much has been clear to the wideout even before Howell got the start in the 2022 season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, although the fact that he performed well enough to help Washington wrap up the year with a win did affirm his faith in the former Tar Heel.
"For him to come in and be aggressive the way he was, I think that says a lot about who he is and his ability to prepare," McLaurin said. "It was just so good to see him smiling and see that light coming on."
Howell's performance on the field will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether he becomes the starting quarterback, but there are some qualities, such as taking command of a huddle or making sure players are in the right spot at the line of scrimmage, that can help strengthen the case that he can function in the role.
So far, Howell has lived up to those expectations.
"He's taken the bull by the horns, and he's really led us a lot this offseason," McLaurin said.