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5 takeaways from Washington's initial 53-man roster

08132022 Commanders vs Panthers Preseason KC3928

1. Five tight ends on the roster, but that could change.

Washington has its top options at tight end in Logan Thomas, John Bates and Cole Turner. While all three did make a return to practice by the end of August, their lack of snaps in training camp allowed players like Curtis Hodges and Armani Rogers to step up. Neither of the undrafted free agents disappointed.

"We kept five for a reason," Ron Rivera said. "We like all five. We think there is a place for those guys."

Hodges and Rogers have a similar skill set. They both flashed as pass-catchers, and even though Hodges was initially a step ahead of Rogers as a run-blocker, the former quarterback made strides in the area during the last two weeks of camp. Rogers in particular had a solid connection with Carson Wentz, as he finished the preseason with five catches for 33 yards.

It should be pointed out that Washington will likely not keep five tight ends for the entire season. Rivera said multiple times that the team is not done tweaking the roster, and with the team still thin at multiple positions, such as cornerback, tight end is one of the spots that could see its numbers decrease.

The Washington Commanders have released their initial 53-man roster for the 2022 season. Here are all the players who made the cut. (Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

2. Milo Eifler was a clear standout.

Milo Eifler was a late addition to Washington's roster in 2021, and the team liked him so much that it brought him back for training camp. Eifler would not have been a player predicted by some to make the roster when camp began, but it became clear that Eifler was one of the best linebackers on the team.

"Milo had a really, really strong camp," Rivera said. "He showed great progress and development. His speed really stood out amongst the linebackers."

In Eifler, Rivera saw a mix of several skill sets. He sees a little bit of Jamin Davis and Cole Holcomb in the former undrafted free agent, and he noticed Eifler take strides on film. Holcomb also said that Eifler is incredibly strong and can do things athletically that not many are able to accomplish.

Eifler also excels at special teams, and that experience will be an asset for him as he prepares for his second NFL season.

3. Jeremy Reaves makes the initial roster for the first time.

Jeremy Reaves has been part of the team in some capacity since 2018. He has mostly been a practice squad player elevated to the active roster out of necessity, but he had never made an initial 53. That changed in 2022.

Reaves, who was called one of the smartest players in the secondary by Bobby McCain, impressed coaches with his instincts and was named as one of five safeties on the roster. Reaves has had his most productive seasons with Rivera, and since 2020 he has recorded 54 tackles and an interception. Reaves earned it, Rivera said, and he is proud of the young player.

"We were sitting down and all of these coaches felt that this guy came, played, did the things that he needed to do, showed us what he is capable of. He is a guy that earned his spot. I'm very proud of him."

Reaves led the team in tackles during the preseason, including an impressive tackle for a loss against the Baltimore Ravens. Reaves still has a lot to learn, but it is a monumental moment for the fifth-year pro.

The rookie RB from Alabama returned to the team facility on Tuesday to meet with team doctors after being shot multiple times in an attempted robbery on Sunday, August 28. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

4. Jonathan Williams earns a spot as the fourth running back.

Brian Robinson’s injury did have an impact on why the Commanders kept four running backs on the roster, but Jonathan Williams had a strong enough camp to earn a spot outright, according to Rivera.

"He is another guy that you sit there and say, 'Wow this guy has progressed, learned and gotten better,'" Rivera said.

Williams can use speed when he needs it, but that is not what enticed Washington to keep him around. Rather, it was his downhill, physical approach to the position that Washington is looking for. Rivera said that Williams and Robinson are similar in that regard, meaning that they are both patient, powerful runners who know how to read their blocks.

Robinson will be back at some point during the season, but until then, Williams has the traits to hold his own in the Commanders' backfield.

"He has gotten better and better with his opportunities," Rivera said. "Keeping him was really something that turned out to be a plus for us."

The Washington Commanders held their first practice after making final roster cuts. Here are some of the top photos from the afternoon. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders

5. More clarity at punt and kickoff returns.

Punt and kickoff returns have been a question since camp began, and it looks like the Commanders finally have an answer in Dax Milne.

Aside from the fact that Washington liked Milne's route running, which helped him perform well in every preseason game, Rivera confirmed that Milne will return punts for the Commanders this season. He had to share the duty with other receivers during the preseason, but he displayed excellent instincts and had a knack for giving the offense better field position.

Rivera added that Milne will be considered for kickoff return duties as well, but he is not the only possibility. Antonio Gibson, who returned kicks during the preseason, is being considered as well. Gibson is at his best when he has the ball in space, and letting him loose during kickoff returns is one of the best opportunities for him to do what he does best.

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