The Washington Commanders have wrapped up OTAs and mandatory minicamp, which means all that's left to do now is reflect on what we saw during the offseason program and wait until training camp begins in late July.
This year, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding the Commanders' offense, which has experienced fundamental changes since last season. With Eric Bieniemy calling plays and Sam Howell placed in a position to become the starting quarterback, much of the attention was focused on what the new system would look like and how Howell would look under center.
Everything that occurred in late May and early June should be viewed in the right perspective -- pads don't come on for another two months -- but those in attendance did get a glimpse of what the offense could be in 2023. Here are four things we learned from OTAs and minicamp this offseason.
The Washington Commanders were back on the field on Thursday for the third day of mandatory minicamp. Check out the top photos from the afternoon. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
1. Sam Howell looked the part.
Many national analysts were surprised when Ron Rivera announced that Howell would be "QB1" heading into the offseason and receive "every opportunity" to be the full-time starter. He played well enough to win in the season finale against the Cowboys, but he was still a fifth-round pick and largely unproven in the NFL.
Howell rose to challenge and helped eliminate some of those concerns. There was more good than bad from the quarterback this offseason, as he flaunted his decision making and arm talent in practice. There were some interceptions here and there, but the Commanders seem willing to accept that he is still learning and determined to bet on the upside that Howell can bring to the offense.
"He's mobile, he's got good foot movement, he's got quick twitch to him, good decision maker," Rivera said. "He is still learning to make those decisions, but he's also got the arm talent and that's the thing that that excites us."
That potential flashed at various points throughout the offseason. He's made accurate throws into traffic -- Logan Thomas has been one his favorite targets for this -- and hasn't shied away from giving his pass-catchers chances to make plays downfield. His receivers have praised his leadership and poise in the pocket, with Curtis Samuel saying that Howell has been throwing "dots."
There are still some questions for Howell to answer; Rivera would like to see him continue to improve his footwork in training camp. However, there was little to no evidence to suggest that Howell doesn't deserve to remain QB1 in August.
2. Eric Bieniemy's influence is felt at all times.
One thing was clear watching the offense this offseason: the unit is going to be run in a completely different manner, not just in the plays that are called, but also in the pace and execution.
It doesn't take long to notice Bieniemy's presence; you'll probably hear him before you see him. He stands about 30 yards away from the offense so he can get a full view of what everyone is doing, and he is constantly reminding players to get set, run the play and most importantly, finish.
Bieniemy is also not afraid to call players out in front of their teammates. In fact, he even told the entire starting offense to get off the field near the end of one practice. But Bieniemy doesn't yell just to be loud and boisterous; rather, everything he says or does is for a purpose, and the players love it.
"It's awesome to have someone who holds you to such a high standard," Jahan Dotson said after practice. "He only wants success out of you. That's all he wants to see. He wants to see you succeed at all times."
It's no secret that Washington's offense needs to improve in 2023, and the players on that side of the ball want to be one of the league's top units. The only way for them to do that is mold themselves to Bieniemy's high standards.
3. The tight ends could be important pieces.
In some ways, that should not be a surprise. Bieniemy comes from a Kansas City offense where Travis Kelce is the best pass-catcher and routinely finishes as a top 10 target in the league. It would be a tall order to replicate Kelce's production, but based on the number of targets Washington's tight ends got in practice, Bieniemy wants to bring some of that to his new team.
"Those guys are doing a heck of a job," Bieniemy said. "In fact, those guys have stood out for all the right reasons. Obviously in this offense, it's always been a tight end friendly offense. Those guys, they show up, they're making plays and the quarterbacks have been doing a great job of locating them in the passing game."
Thomas, who looks fully healthy for the first time in years, has been the top target for the position and looks like the threat he was back in 2020. He made contested catches over defenders, looked fluid in his route running and found soft spots in coverage to be a reliable target for Howell.
Bates and Curtis Hodges have been reliable as well, but Turner's reemergence was one top stories of the offseason. After dealing with a hamstring injury for a chunk of his rookie season, Turner used his size and speed to create separation from defenders. It was similar to how he looked in last year's training camp, when he was one of the top red zone targets for quarterbacks.
Turner and the rest of the room will need to stay healthy, but the position could be one of the most exciting groups for Washington.
4. The offensive line picture got a little clearer.
Things are never quite clear for offensive linemen this time of year. Contact is not allowed this time of year, so there's little that can be learned about how the group will perform during the season.
For the Commanders, the offensive line is one of the biggest uncertainties on the team. There are new starters at center as well as right tackle, and both guard spots -- the left more so than the right -- present big question marks.
We'll have to wait until August for everything to truly sort itself out, but we do have an idea on what it could look like. From left to right, the starters at the beginning of training camp will be Charles Leno, Saahdiq Charles, Nick Gates, Sam Cosmi and Andrew Wylie.
Chemistry is pivotal for an offensive line to function, and the starting five seemed to make progress in that area. This was particularly true of Cosmi and Wylie, as they passed off stunts in blitz periods with efficiency and could often be seen chatting about the previous series on the sideline.
If there are any changes between now and Week 1, it will be at left guard. Charles is handling his own after dealing with injuries at various points of his career, but Chris Paul is also in the running and could push Charles for the spot in camp.
Any success the Commanders' offense has will hinge on whether the offensive line can get itself sorted out and be more consistent in 2023.