The Washington Commanders are inching closer to the start of training camp and a critical year for the franchise.
We're less than two weeks 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.
Commanders.com will be breaking down each position and how they've changed in the past year. Next up are the cornerbacks.
- William Jackson III
- Emmanuel Forbes
-- A difference-maker in the secondary: The Commanders have spent a good portion of the offseason praising Emmanuel Forbes’ progress and how quickly he has picked up the defensive scheme. What we saw during OTAs was impressive, but it was limited due to the nature and restrictions of practice. In about 10 days, we'll see a more comprehensive sample of how impressive he can be.
"Obviously, there is the physical nature of the game that we'll have to watch once we get the pads on, but as of right now everything else he's done, he's done exactly what we saw," Rivera said. "He is a ball hawk. He does time it out very well, does put himself in position."
Forbes matched up against the Commanders' best receivers this offseason, including Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. There were some moments where the wideouts got the better of Forbes, but for the most part, Forbes held his own and even managed to record some pass breakups during team drills.
That has to excite Del Rio, who was "fired up" about adding Forbes to the secondary.
"I think he's a tremendous football player," Del Rio said. "He's fast. He's got great ball skills. He's very bright and he played against some of the best competition that you can being in the SEC and held up week in and week."
-- A healthy Benjamin St-Juste: There was a time when Benjamin St-Juste was considered to be the Commanders' primary option at nickel cornerback, but with Williams Jackson III being injured and later traded, they were forced to move him back to the outside.
St-Juste was good in the slot, but that shift allowed his skill set to shine.
Prior to suffering an ankle injury against the Houston Texans making a pass breakup that resulted in an interception by Darrick Forrest, St-Juste faced the likes of Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown. Despite missing four games, he finished second among the team's cornerbacks in tackles (42) and third in pass breakups (7).
"I think I found my potential in terms of [being] a CB1, being matched up against a star receiver and performing well and stepping up in big moments" St-Juste said. "That was kind of like a little coming out moment for me."
The more St-Juste stood out, the more the Commanders were willing to give him opportunities on the field. The perimeter was where he could be found the most -- he had 421 snaps at that spot in 2022 -- but he also saw 168 snaps in the slot and a handful of snaps closer to the box (40) according to Pro Football Focus.
St-Juste believes he's earned the right to be a No. 1 cornerback, and now that he's healthy, he'll be able to back up those claims.
-- Can the depth improve: Once St-Juste began missing games, that meant Washington's depth at cornerback needed to step up and prove itself. The results were mixed, which is why it was apparent that Washington needed to add more talent to the position.
That's not to say that it was an entirely unpleasant experience. On the contrary, there were a few positives to be gleaned from Washington's cornerback depth. Christian Holmes, a former seventh-round pick, is one such example. He had a strong afternoon in his first bit of action against the Atlanta Falcons, posting a season high cover grade of 69.3.
However, it was also clear that Holmes still needed time to develop. The following week, he allowed a 55-yard reception by Darius Slayton that rejuvenated the Giants' offense. There were several factors that led to Washington relinquishing its 10-0 lead over the Giants, but that play certainly was a contributing factor.
Another player who stood out is Danny Johnson, who re-signed with the team this offseason for getting a career-high 29 tackles with nine pass breakups. Johnson has been reliable and consistent for the majority of his career, and he'll need to continue that as he heads into his sixth season with the team.
We already know that the main contributors for Washington at cornerback are a strong group. Forbes has lived up to his reputation so far, and the duo of St-Juste and Kendall Fuller are expected to have good seasons. What we don't know is how the players behind them will perform. If they can show improvement, then they could turn the position into one of the league's best.