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3 keys to Washington's final preseason game against the Ravens

08242022 Wednesday Practice KC6086

The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.

The Washington Commanders wrap up the preseason with a road trip to play the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, Aug. 27. Senior Writer Zach Selby and team analyst Logan Paulsen give three keys to the finale.

1. How do you predict the linebacker depth will shape out?

Logan: The way Ron Rivera and his staff have handled the linebacker position has been fascinating. A team that plays a 4-3 defense would traditionally keep six or seven. However, Rivera and Jack Del Rio have tweaked the defensive structure and adapted to pass-first personnel groupings. The team has shifted to a 4-2 with a nickel player or a defensive back body type filling that third spot. Linebacker depth has become less important, which is why the team only kept four in 2021.

Cole Holcomb has solidified himself as the defense's signal-caller. Jamin Davis appears to have developed from his rookie year. David Mayo flashes his physicality and will see significant time in specific situations. The fourth linebacker spot is more of a question. The position has been held by Khaleke Hudson, but he has been quiet in camp with a subdued performance against Carolina. Milo Eifler has been getting reps with the second group at Hudson's expense, He has flashed during the games and made some tackles on special teams. He is playing well, but is that enough to unseat Hudson? If Hudson is quiet again against Baltimore and Eifler excels, that can help his case for the fourth spot.

Zach: This is one of the positions on Washington's roster that has been mostly set since camp began. Rivera laid out the roles for Holcomb, Davis, Mayo and Hudson in July. The Commanders kept four on the active roster last season, and I expect them to do the same in 2022 because of needs at other positions and the confidence they have in the core group.

To Logan's point, Hudson has not shown as much of the twitch and downhill ability that he had at Michigan as I would like. He has gotten a slight edge in opportunities during games over Eifler, but there is not much production to show for it. There have been flashes -- he had a nice tackle for a loss last week in practice -- but they have been inconsistent.

I would still give Hudson the edge over Eifler because of his special teams prowess. That is an area where he has excelled, which matters a lot to this coaching staff. It would not surprise me if Eifler is on the practice squad and plays sometime this season, but I think Hudson's upside is more promising.

2. How does Logan Thomas affect the number of tight ends Washington keeps?

Logan: This group has become extremely compelling. It had lots of questions early in the offseason as Logan Thomas rehabbed his ACL. However, the young tight ends showed they had the potential to manage the position during OTAs. John Bates was a consistent blocker and pass-catcher. Cole Turner flashed his catch radius and suddenness off one-step cuts. Curtis Hodges showed great movement skills for his size and a willingness to compete in the run game, and Armani Rogers looked like a solid developmental piece with high upside.

The evaluations from OTA's held true in camp, but it was short-lived. Bates tweaked his calf in the second practice and has only seen the practice field once since then. Turner looked like he could contribute early, but he pulled his hamstring mid-way through camp. That left only Hodges and Rodgers in a battle of attrition. Both played well in the first preseason game and have flashed in practice. Hodges maintained an edge until he went down with a thigh injury. Rogers capitalized on his opportunity, growing each day at the position until people started asking, "Hodges who?"

With Thomas on track for Week 1, it is almost impossible to keep both young players on the roster, leaving the question: who wins the fourth spot? Hodges had the advantage prior to the injury, but Rodgers has become the favorite for me with his recent ascension.

Zach: As good as it is for the team that Thomas is coming back, it does have a disappointing effect for the younger tight ends. Last week, I thought it was possible Hodges and Rogers made the initial roster, but now it looks like only one will be active.

Like Logan, I think it comes down to Rogers or Hodges. Kendall Blanton has more experience than both, but he simply has not been here long enough to build a stronger case. Hodges has more natural tools for the position and is a strong run-blocker, but Rogers has made a big push in recent practices with Hodges battling injury. It has become a regular occurrence for him to make an impressive catch. He also made strides as a blocker as camp wore on.

Rogers has developed a solid connection with Carson Wentz, which may be the deciding factor here. It will be interesting to see whether Hodges plays, but I think Rogers has a firm hold on that fourth spot.

3. Which group are you looking at the most this week: offensive line or defensive line?

Defensive line

Logan: With Chase Young on the PUP and Bunmi Rotimi going to IR, the battle at defensive line went from obvious to compelling. The starters and even most of the depth pieces are well-established. Montez Sweat and James Smith-Williams will start at defensive end. Casey Toohill and Efe Obada will serve as the depth for the position and get significant playing time this season. In the interior, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are the studs at the position. Daniel Wise and Phidarian Mathis are obvious depth pieces, but some might disagree with me on Wise. My response would be to turn on the tape. He is disruptive and makes plays in a way that shows his twitch and athleticism.

I can almost hear readers asking, "What is so compelling about a position that is so clear cut?" Young's absence means the door to the roster has swung wide open for guys like Will Bradley-King and Shaka Toney. Without injuries to Young and Rotimi, they would have most likely been practice squad players. The third preseason game will serve as their final audition for a roster spot. Bradley-King has been consistent as the fifth rotational end. He plays hard, and it's clear the game is important to him. Toney is inconsistent but flashes enough to show his ceiling, which is probably higher than Bradley-King's. I would lean Bradley-King because I know what I am getting, but If Toney were to stand out against Baltimore, his upside might be too good to pass up.

The Washington Commanders have wrapped up their week of practice before their preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. Check out the top photos from the day. Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders

Offensive line

Zach: I was slightly concerned about the offensive line for a few days with Andrew Norwell, Wes Schweitzer and Charles Leno all out against the Chiefs, but that was quickly erased with all three in practice this week. What's more, Trai Turner is starting to work back into the lineup, so that is a good sign for Week 1 as well.

There are no questions for me in terms of the starting five. Whether Turner or Schweitzer start is not a concern to me because of Schweitzer's consistency and Turner's resume. The backup roles are far more interesting. The real question is whether the Commanders keep nine or 10 linemen, and I believe the answer comes down to a few players.

Seventh-round pick Chris Paul has had his moments. He knows how to cut off defenders, and he has shown that he has the quickness to deal with stunts on pass plays. But he still has much to learn, and he will need to show more growth against Baltimore to earn a spot. Aaron Monteiro deserves respect for playing 48 snaps against the Chiefs, and like Paul, he has flashed some talent (he sealed off a Chiefs linebacker that led to a nine-yard run by Jonathan Williams).

The problem for Monteiro is that Saahdiq Charles can play guard and tackle, and he had an impressive camp juggling both spots. The good news for him is that he will have plenty of snaps to prove why the Commanders should have four tackles on the roster.

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