The Washington Commanders are inching closer to the start of training camp and a critical year for the franchise.
We're about a month away from the players 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.
Commanders.com will be breaking down each position and how they've changed in the past year. We'll start things off with the running back position, which has gone through some changes since last year but is still poised to have a big season.
- Chris Rodriguez Jr.
- J.D. McKissic
-- Brian Robinson's expectations for Year 2: Brian Robinson ended up leading the Commanders in rushing yards last season, but we never got to see him at his best because he had to recover from being shot twice in the leg. Now that he's fully healthy, he's starting to look more like the player that impressed coaches so much during last year's training camp.
"BRob has done a really nice job," said head coach Ron Rivera. "You can see his explosiveness. One of the comments in talking with [Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel] Marty [Hurney] and some of the scouts as we've been watching practice is you listen to them talk about BRob and the explosiveness seems to be there immediately."
The running backs didn't have many opportunities to carry the ball this offseason since most of the plays were dedicated to the passing game, but Robinson was able to show off his abilities as a receiver out of the backfield, which he has said is an underrated part of his game. He had a one-handed catch on a screen that he turned into a decent gain by juking past multiple defenders near the sideline.
We'll get a clearer view of how Robinson looks in Eric Bieniemy's system when pads come on and the offense starts to practice more run plays. It seems like Washington's backs will be more involved in the passing game, but the base of Robinson's skill set will always revolve around him being a downhill, physical back who can do most of his damage between the tackles.
There were plenty of "first day of school" vibes at the Washington Commanders' training facility during media.
-- Creating mismatches for Antonio Gibson: While Antonio Gibson did not have as productive of a year as he would have liked in 2022, but the Commanders still view him as a key piece of the offense. That means finding ways to put him in space.
"He really has come out and has really taken to what Coach Bieniemy is trying to get across to these guys on how to practice, how to prepare yourself, and what's expected," Rivera said of Gibson. "That's the other thing that's been really good and just watching him has been a treat this year because you see that growth and again, to me it's all trending in the right direction."
Like with Robinson, we saw a sample of what Gibson can do in the screen game. Gibson had a wall of blockers in front of him, but he used his 4.3 speed to sprint down the sideline and likely would have scored in a live scenario.
Making defenders miss in space has always been a part of Gibson's game, but there's a chance we're going to see more of it in Bieniemy's system.
"You see his athleticism because again, that's what he came in as a receiver out of Memphis," Rivera said. "And he's really shown that his pass catching ability is there. And then once he's got the ball in his hands, especially in space, he's a load."
-- Chris Rodriguez's role: Bieniemy vouched for Chris Rodriguez when the Commanders were on the clock in the sixth round, believing that one of the most productive running backs in program history at Kentucky could help Washington's offense.
Rodriguez will not be the top running back on the depth chart, so he will need to find ways to use his playmaking ability as a backup. He rose to that challenge during OTAs and was willing to do whatever possible to help his new team.
"Chris is a hardworking kid," Bieniemy said. "He takes a tremendous amount of pride in everything that he does, and I think right now he's in a good place."
Rivera said Bieniemy was "very high" on Rodriguez during the draft process because of what he showed as Kentucky's primary running back. He had 20 100-yard games in his career -- a school record -- while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
He won't get as many opportunities to show that as a backup, but in the right situation, Rodriguez could evolve into a change of pace for the Commanders' backfield.