The hype is starting to build around the Washington Commanders as they begin preparations for their 2022 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the team can feel the difference after going through a month's worth of training camp.
"I thought the energy this morning in meetings and then out there on the practice field is what you're looking for," coach Ron Rivera told reporters after Monday's practice. "The guys do understand that it's on."
This year, the Commanders are kicking things off at home with a matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went 3-14 during their 2021 campaign. They ranked near the bottom of the league in offensive (27th in total yards) and defensive (28th in points allowed) categories, which led to them picking first in April's draft.
Washington is currently a three-point favorite, according to ESPN's metrics, but Rivera is too familiar with new head coach Doug Pederson and his staff to take the game lightly.
"I know they're very well coached," Rivera said. "I've had the opportunity to be around Doug and I know who Doug is. Doug's got a tremendous resume as well, not just as a coach, but as a player and he's had a great deal of success."
It is true the Jaguars have pieces that could help them improve on the league's worst record in 2021. Trevor Lawrence, who did struggle at times during his rookie season, is still considered to be a player with tremendous upside as the 2020 No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars gave him two new weapons in Evan Engram and Christian Kirk as well as a new offensive lineman in Brandon Scherff.
On defense, the Jaguars have paired this year's No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker with former Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun to bolster the front seven. Walker is known more as a pass-rusher, Oluokun was the most productive linebacker in 2021 with 192 tackles. The hope is that he will help a unit that allowed 125 yards on the ground last season.
It has been easy to write off the Jaguars since their trip to the AFC Championship in 2017. Rivera is not so dismissive of the Commanders' first opponent.
"I think this is going to be a much better team than people give them credit for."
Let's dive into some more observations from Monday:
-- Logan Thomas, Cole Turner and John Bates were all at practice and participated in individual drills. Turner reportedly participated in team drills as well, but the team will not give its first injury report until Wednesday. Thomas seemed pleased with his progress during his scrum with the media and said the plan is for him to play in either Week 1 or Week 2. He would like to be ready for the season opener, but his priority is making sure his body is fully recovered before he steps on the field.
-- Kamren Curl missed last week's Wednesday practice and was seen in a cast on the sideline. Today, he was in uniform and stretched with the team, although he still had the cast on his right hand. He confirmed that he did have surgery and will wear the cast until the incision heals. He has not been ruled out for Sunday's game at this time.
-- Brian Robinson is still in the beginning of his recovery, and Rivera said there are certain steps he will need to take to show that he is ready to play. There will be a schedule for how the running backs approaches his path to getting on the field, but for now, the team is having him go through some workouts at home until he gets further along in his timeline.
-- The Commanders announced that Ryan Kerrigan would be their assistant defensive line coach. Rivera believes his practical experience has been one his biggest assets in shadowing the staff during training camp. Many of the defensive linemen played alongside Kerrigan, so they understand how much of a professional he is.
"I think he'll use that and that'll help him in terms of his growth and development as a coach, but also gaining the players' respect," Rivera said.
-- Kerrigan offered some insight on his pass-rush philosophy during his Monday press conference. The mantra of four players rushing as one has been used by the defensive line dating back to his time with the team as a player. He wants the defensive line to avoid quarterbacks slipping through the pocket and escaping the rush, so sticking to the proper assignments is going to be a point of emphasis.
"You gotta be aware of where the quarterback is. You just gotta have that feel. That has to be at the forefront of your mind when you're rushing."
-- Rivera acknowledged that Carson Wentz’s experience playing for Doug Pederson will be valuable as the Commanders prepare for the Jaguars, and the quarterback has already provided some insight.
"We'll take that to heart, but we'll take it for what it's worth. It's more about what they've got planned for us than what they've done."