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The Washington Commanders needed to shore up their offensive line this offseason, and assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy feels they have taken a step towards accomplishing that.
The Commanders did not make the "splashy" moves that garner headlines back in March like some teams, but they did sign players that help plug holes at various positions of need. Among the haul of additions was guard/tackle Andrew Wylie, who followed Bieniemy to Washington from the Kansas City Chiefs, and former New York Giants center Nick Gates.
Both players were targeted early by the Commanders in the legal tampering period, and the reason for that is simple: they have a long history of position flexibility.
"They bring a tremendous amount of experience," Bieniemy said. "That's huge, and that's important."
Wylie, 28, and Gates, 27, have played a combined 4,206 snaps, and between the two of them, they have spent time at every position on the offensive line. What's more, they have started a total of 89 games with 115 appearances.
Wylie, who first met Bieniemy back in 2018 after bouncing between the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers, was one of the players Bieniemy vouched for when free agency began. He found a more consistent position by earning the starting right tackle job in 2022, but prior to that, he started at left and right guard in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Wylie's play wasn't always pretty, Bieniemy said, but when the Chiefs needed him to play his best, he lived up to those expectations.
"One thing I love about Andrew, not only does he bring experience from a player's point of view, but he also brings some resilience that can help young players that are trying to develop and become the players that they want to be," Bieniemy said. "He can help them to grow as well."
Wylie has not hinted at where he will play on the Commanders' offensive line, despite reporters trying to get an answer out of him during his introductory press conference. Instead, Wylie replied that he is ready to compete, regardless of what position he's at.
"Anything it needs to be," Wylie said when asked about his role on the team. "Anywhere on the offensive line...and just be that supportive veteran role on this offensive line."
Gates' position is more solidified; he made it clear from the day he officially signed his contract that he intends to play center because he likes being the one to make the calls on the offensive line and being able to lead his teammates.
"It holds me accountable just because you gotta know everything, and you gotta make sure everybody's on the same page," Gates said.
But last year, which was his first year back from a gruesome leg injury that required multiple surgeries, Gates started five games at left guard and played 77 snaps at right guard in 2019. While he does believe he is most comfortable at center, that experience might be useful during the season.
"You can't have enough good offensive linemen with that experience," Bieniemy said. "So, I'm fired up about those young men."
Both Gates and Wylie are expected to compete for starting roles in training camp, but even if they do not start, having two players with starting experience as backups would be an asset. Four of the Commanders' five Day 1 starters on the offensive line missed time, which partly explains why the team ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass-block win-rate (27th) and run-block win-rate (19th).
The Commanders are not done addressing the offensive line, but having versatile players like Wylie and Gates does alleviate some of the team's concerns.
"I feel very comfortable with it, I really do," head coach Ron Rivera said during the league owners meetings in March. "We made a concerted effort during free agency to go out and fortify the line. Add some depth to the line. Add some competition. We have some guys that are also position flex guys so it'll give us an opportunity to see the best places to have these guys and integrate them with the guys that are currently on the roster."