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Chris Paul 'grateful' to compete for starting LG spot


Chris Paul lined up at left with the starting offense on Day 5 of the Washington Commanders' training camp and patiently waited for Nick Gates to snap the football.  

Paul, a seventh-round pick from 2022, had primarily worked with the second group of offensive linemen up to that point in camp. That was the way coach Ron Rivera wanted it for the first week to give Saahdiq Charles the first crack at being the starter, but the head coach didn't want to rule Paul out. The upcoming play was one of Paul's first opportunities to prove that he could handle the role himself. 

The play began, and Paul chipped the defensive lineman to his right before moving through traffic up to the strong side linebacker to cut him off. The play was stalled for a minimal gain, but Paul had executed his assignment to perfection. 

The Washington Commanders are searching for a new left guard this offseason, and they have two possible answers in Charles and Paul. It's the only position that is truly up for grabs on an offensive line that underwent significant changes after a disappointing 2022 campaign, and Paul is determined to show that he deserves to be in the thick of the conversation. 

"I feel like I've been doing well," Paul said after practice. "I've been growing, I've been maturing, and more importantly, I've been competing."

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While Charles has been the starting left guard since the start of OTAs, Rivera has made it clear that Paul is going to get his opportunity to earn the role for himself. Rivera has been impressed with the former Tulsa lineman since his rookie season, and that continued throughout the offseason with Rivera saying that Paul is "nipping at the heels of all of our offensive linemen."

"He's shown that he can play both guard positions, and we believe so," Rivera said. "There are some questions to whether he can do tackle. I mean, it's something we're gonna look at once we get into the pads in the summer and see if he's capable of that as well. So that's another huge plus."

For now, Paul is sticking at guard, and that seems to be the spot that fits his skill set the best. Listed at 324 pounds, Paul is the third-largest player on the roster. Paul pairs that size with impressive strength that allows him to match up well against the Commanders' physical defensive tackles.

Paul spent much of his time during 1-on-1 pass protection drills in the first fully-padded practice of camp lined up against Jonathan Allen, who did win most of the reps. Paul battled well on each snap, though, and didn't provide an easy path to the quarterback for the Pro Bowler.

Paul has been getting more reps against Allen and the starting defensive line in recent practices. He began splitting time with Charles in the first group last week, and with Charles missing Wednesday's team drills while nursing a calf injury, Paul played all of his reps with the starters.

Rivera believes that the uptick in competition should be good for Paul.

"That's important for his growth and development as a football player for us," Rivera said. "He's one of the young guys coupled with Sam \[Cosmi\] and Saahdiq that we're going to count on to be part of that interior for us. And so we want to make sure he gets some work with the ones."

Physically, Paul has proven he can handle himself. For the past two weeks, one of his main focuses has been improving his mental dexterity and maturity that comes with being an NFL veteran.

"Just being confident and sure that I'm here for a reason and know how to do my job," Paul said.

Paul has also prioritized building more chemistry with his fellow offensive linemen, especially now that he's working with the starters more often. The entire unit is working on being more in sync as they get more familiar with Eric Bieniemy’s system, but that is particularly important for the offensive line because of how much all of their assignments depend on each other.

That's still a work in progress through seven days, but Paul can feel the improvements.

"Getting set, getting our alignment...our temp, everything," Paul said. "All the little things matter, and we've definitely been stressing that a lot. I feel like we've been holding to those things, and we're getting better day by day."

And as for getting more reps with the starters, Paul is "definitely grateful for the opportunity in front of me."

None of it is surprising to him, though.

"Just more so a reminder to keep coming out day in and day out and keep getting better."

Paul has had the coaches' attention for months now. Rivera went out of his way to praise the rookie, and his defensive teammates have also pointed out how much of a challenge he can be for them. With Washington's defensive line being one of the best in the league, that kind of approval is not insignificant.

Paul has another month to prove that he can be a Week 1 starter, and so far, things are going as planned.

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