The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
Assuming anything in football is foolish, which makes me a fool. After the schedule dropped and the first two opponents for the Commanders picked 1-2 in the draft, visions of 2-0 with the Eagles coming to FedExField were hard to ignore. How would 3-1 or better after a visit to Dallas feel? Maybe 10 wins was underselling what this team could do. It's easy to get lost in the outcome before the process begins. And man, did I lose it.
Training camp has been a reminder that optimism is virtuous but no substitute for the work. And in this case, this team has work to do to achieve those types of goals. And I'll be the first to echo the sentiments of Ron Rivera who has been repeating the word "humility" throughout the summer. He doesn't want you, me, or most importantly his team to assume a thing.
Now two-plus weeks into camp and the first exhibition opponent a few days away, it's time to look at the sum of the parts and see if the whole is truly on that path to a mid-January playoff game.
The Washington Commanders' offense had one of the best performances during Day 12 of training camp. Check out the top images from Tuesday's practice.
When you use four consecutive first-round picks on a single position group, the reality is that group better be the reason you have a chance to win every week. In 2020, the line was the core of a defense ranked in the top five in total defense. In 2021, they weren't. The injuries started piling up. It's a redemption year for this group, with or without a healthy Chase Young.
While the team lacks the impact of Young opposite of Sweat, it's clear there are ample ends filling in namely in Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams. And I love the energy of Will Bradley-King as a semi-sleeper to steal a spot and get in the early season rotation as the team waits for Young to come back.
When the team showcases the 5 man front with Phidarian Mathis, it has the feel of a unit that is as formidable as any in the league.
*The Skill Players *
This is easily the deepest set of skill position players the team has assembled in a long time. The Commanders' best pure deep threat might be Dyami Brown, who figures to be the fourth or fifth receiver on the depth chart. The Jahan Dotson hype is real. His running style is smooth. His route running at times is exceptional, and he has the feel of a player who once he gets on the same page with his quarterback will be dynamic.
Terry McLaurin has had a quiet camp with the exception of a touchdown grab in the open practice at FedExField, and he's even had a few unusual drops. But if there is anyone on the roster I am not the least bit concerned about, it's him.
While hearing vague terminology about a plan to ramp up Curtis Samuel has triggering effects, seeing Samuel go back to back in practice and running full speed gives me hope last year will be last year for good. And you always know things are in a good place when someone who could easily latch onto another roster is going to have to be released due to numbers.
The Running Backs
The running back room has tremendous flexibility. Maybe the biggest surprise in camp for me is the hands of rookie Brian Robinson Jr. He was billed as a bruiser who I pictured as a short yardage specialist, goal line hawk and option to spell Antonio Gibson. But the more I watch him, the more I see options out of the backfield as well as potential inside the tackles. His frame is leaner than I pictured, but that doesn't mean he won't win in tough yardage situations. But on that front, I'm in a wait and see mode.
Gibson lost weight and beyond looks the part. The season is set up for him. He knows it and will tell anyone who will listen that he expects a big season. J.D. McKissic has shined as the shiftiest of the options. Here's hoping he doesn't get lost in the shuffle because at times I can argue that he's the most reliable weapon when the team has needed a big play.
Because the front has been so dominant and because the back seven hasn't faced live competition, I'm not nearly as bullish on this group as I am on the D-Line or skill group, but maybe the back seven is exceeding expectations.
Here's what I know: Kendall Fuller looks like he is having his best camp in years. To me, one of the biggest linchpins this year will be whether William Jackson III becomes a semblance of a number one corner. His transition to the defense appears improved but again, live competition will be telling. I'm as curious as anyone about the Benjamin St-Juste switch to the slot but there was one positive I've noticed in practice: Because of his unusual size, he's a presence in windows in the slot which I'm hoping causes disruption and potentially poor throws.
The Question Marks
You'd have to be a true believer to assume Carson Wentz would come here and morph back into the dominant player he was in the early part of his career in Philadelphia. And certainly from an athletic skill set, he does things few quarterbacks have done here in some time. But it's the level of inaccuracy that cannot be ignored. I'll hear out every coach and analyst who states this is not all about Wentz. Assuming he'd walk in here and have timing down with a complete set of skill players immediately isn't being fair to him. And it's not like the offensive line has stood out in camp thanks in part to a consistent rotation of players thanks to early camp injuries.
But there certainly is a level of impreciseness that cannot be overlooked or shrugged off. This weekend will be very very interesting.
In my opinion, Rivera took two calculated risks in the offseason. One was obviously the acquisition of Wentz. The second was the lack of high level free agent or high level draft picks used to bring in help along the offensive line. Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner provide veteran depth but they are at the tail end of their careers. Wes Schweitzer spent the spring as the center as the team waited for the return of Chase Roullier. Now with Turner injured, Schweitzer is playing guard and as Roullier ramps up slowly, the team is back down to a fourth center in returnee Keith Ismael. My biggest concern for this team is the season-long viability of the offensive line and what that could mean for the comfort of Wentz who, as described above, could use some stability in front of him as he tries to get his timing and accuracy back to a winning level.
Yes, I am aware how excited the team is for rookie Cole Turner. And he is hard to miss on the field. But with Logan Thomas still out, inexperience is going to be tested. John Bates developed quickly into a reliable blocker/receiver. For reasons stated above with the offensive line, his help in protection could be an enormous key this season. As for Turner, Curtis Hodges, Sammis Reyes and the very intriguing (to me) Armani Rogers, while I love the promise of big plays and mismatches, is this group going to be reliable with so little experience?
I'm still optimistic. The glass is half full. And the schedule didn't change. But for the next month, process and improvement will be the barometer whether that optimism is warranted or foolish assumptions from the spring.