The summer heat was in full force and the team facility was buzzing with fans and media members as the Washington Commanders finally kicked off their first practice of training camp.
There was plenty of optimism surrounding the team as players went through team drills. That's to be expected, head coach Ron Rivera told the media, because everyone is excited to be back on the field and make their case to earn a roster spot.
He and the rest of the coaches can feel that energy, too, but this is the first of many days in their process of evaluating the roster and whittling it down to 53 players. The excitement and expectations are fun, but everything needs to be put into context, and the only thing that matters is what kind of performance the players put on the field.
With that said, let's dive into how the players set the tone for the rest of training camp.
-- The highlight of the day was Carson Wentz’s connection with Terry McLaurin, which was on display during warmups and during team drills. Fans got a preview of what will be plenty of passes between the two during one session when McLaurin beat his defender and gave Wentz an easy target. McLaurin made the leaping grab before falling to the ground with the ball in his hands for a 20-yard gain.
-- Rivera mentioned Tuesday that the defensive ends behind Chase Young will have to step up in his absence. There will likely be several players rotating at the other end spot, but for the first day, James Smith-Williams was in the starting lineup. Smith-Williams is perhaps the most accomplished candidate in the bunch, starting in six games and recording 2.5 sacks and 30 tackles.
-- With Antonio Gibson on the side field to start camp, that gave Brian Robinson more opportunities to work with the starters. Rivera called Robinson big, strong and physical, and he's excited about what he can bring to the running game between the tackles.
-- Rivera said Robinson has some elusiveness to his skill set, and he got to show a little of that as a pass-catcher. On one play, Robinson was met by William Jackson III on what would have been a nasty collision. Both players pulled up before contact occurred, but they smiled and pointed at each other as they jogged back to their respective huddles.
-- Rivera has made it clear to Wentz that he is wanted, and that gave the quarterback plenty of confidence as he went through practice. Wentz was hyper, Rivera told media members, and he was eager to throw the ball downfield. Wentz is still getting to know his new teammates, but he is starting to get accustomed to their tendencies and play style. That will be one aspect to watch throughout camp.
-- Jonathan Allen weighed in on where the team could be headed this season. He knows the expectations of the team, and making the playoffs is certainly one of their goals. However, that isn't their focus. Thinking constantly about their goals isn't how they will accomplish them. Instead, Allen wants his teammates to put their attention on taking things one day at a time and trying to improve themselves.
-- Another competition to watch is at the bottom of the receiver position. The players at the top are exciting, but Rivera predicts the five, six and seven positions will be "very competitive." Dax Milne got off to a strong start on Wednesday, as he hauled in several passes in team drills.
Here are a couple other quick observations.
-- Darrick Forrest also shined at the start of practice, providing strong man coverage and forcing an early incompletion to Sims.
-- J.D. McKissic looked reliable as always and had a nice play for a sizable gain down the left sideline.