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 safeties.
- Bobby McCain
- Quan Martin
-- Quan Martin adds more versatility: There were several analysts who believed Quan Martin was a first-round pick, so when the Illinois defensive back fell to the Commanders in the second round, the vibes were just as high within the team's war room as when they took Emmanuel Forbes with the 16th overall pick.
The reason: Martin's versatility is expected to add another dimension to Washington's secondary.
A five-year contributor at Illinois with 40 starts, Martin played all over the defense, including the slot (1,012 snaps), perimeter cornerback (851 snaps) and free safety (300 snaps). He excelled at just about every position, too; he had the No. 4 tackle grade among cornerbacks in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus, and he grabbed seven career interceptions to go with 30 pass breakups.
The Commanders were not shy about utilizing Martin's versatility in OTAs. He's mostly played in the slot, but he's already earned some reps with the starters and made some exceptional plays. During one practice, he deflected a pass that led to an interception, and he has provided solid coverage against bigger targets like Logan Thomas.
Washington values players who the coaches can move around because of the freedom it gives them in personnel packages. We'll see where he fits in the rotation this year, but there's a chance Martin could be one of the team's most impactful rookies.
-- Kam Curl starting the year healthy: It was a surprise to many when Kamren Curl showed up to practice just days before the Commanders' 2022 season opener wearing street clothes and a sling. It turned out that Curl had undergone surgery on his hand, and it took him almost a month to get back on the field.
Washington managed well enough in the Week 1 win over the Jaguars, but the team fell behind early the following week against the Lions and failed to overcome the deficit. Curl was back in Week 3 against the Eagles, but it took time to get back to the form that fans are accustomed to seeing from him.
Curl also missed the last three games of the season, and he certainly would have been helpful in losses to the 49ers and Browns that ultimately led to Washington getting eliminated from playoff contention.
Curl didn't participate in team drills during OTAs, but the safety is healthy and ready to go as he enters his fourth season. Like Martin, Curl offers the secondary plenty of flexibility in personnel packages because he can play any position on the field. So, assuming he stays healthy throughout camp, it should help Washington avoid the slow starts that have plagued the team for the past three seasons.
-- Can Darrick Forrest take another step: Darrick Forrest was one of the biggest surprises during the 2022 season. After spending his rookie season being hurt and limited to special teams, Forrest was given a shot to be a starting safety and stepped up his game with four interceptions and 88 tackles. There was even a time when Forrest was playing like one of the best safeties in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
"Before the season, it was unknown," Forrest said of his skill set. "Like, 'What is Darrick Forrest gonna be this year?' It was just about opportunities, and I made the most of my opportunities. I'm just proud to be in this position right now."
Creating turnovers soon became a common occurrence for the young safety, as he often found himself in the right spot to make plays. He had a pick and a fumble recovery in Washington's Monday Night Football win over the Philadelphia Eagles, both of which helped swing momentum back into the Burgundy & Gold's favor, and he grabbed another interception off a tipped pass during the Houston Texans game a week later.
Forrest was one of the reasons why Washington ended the year allowing the fourth-fewest passing yards in the NFL. Now that Bobby McCain is off the roster, Forrest should slide in as his replacement. He's already shown that he has the skill set to be a competent starter; now he needs to prove that he can do it consistently.