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Hail Mail | Looking at Dax Milne's punt return ability and Jeff Zgonina's combine metrics


The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.

We're on the precipice of the final preseason game. In about two weeks -- 17, to be more precise (by the way, you can get $17 off any tickets to the season opener against the Jaguars using the code 17 today by going to our tickets page) -- the games are going to count for real. 

That alone should get people excited. Let's keep that energy going in this week's edition of Hail Mail. Here's what Commanders fans want to know. 

-- Terry B.: Is Taylor Heinicke in the plans to be a solid backup? Most teams now scramble to make sure they have a solid backup. He is still young and can grow into the role. 

Taylor Heinicke is still in the plans to be the Commanders' backup. He knows the offensive system better than most on the team, and the tweaks he has made to his arm strength this past offseason have flashed over the past month. There is a good chance that Washington keeps three quarterbacks with Sam Howell on the roster, but the rookie is largely viewed as a developmental project and will need time to grow before he is ready to help the team. Until then, Howell is firmly set as third quarterback on the depth chart with Heinicke as the primary backup. 

John G.: Do you think the Commanders will add another receiver? 

I'm not going to rule it out, John, but it's unlikely with the way the room is performing right now. I think they like their options at the bottom of the position. Players like Dax Milne and Alex Erickson have put together some solid practices, and I believe the final spot will be given to one of them. I was surprised by the team signing Matt Cole a few weeks ago, but I understand that they want to find someone who can return kicks, which Cole has done over the course of his career. I believe they are set with the top options already on the roster. However, if one of them gets hurt, there are some interesting names that could add some talent.

Wrennie W.: Do you think having Cam Sims plus two good pass-catching tight ends and J.D. McKissic slipping out of the backfield would make a good red zone package? Thanks.

I think that gives Carson Wentz a lot of big targets, most of whom have a history of making plays in the red zone. Cam Sims is the only one who does not have as much experience in that area of the field, but he has the size to be a friendly target for Wentz. The key is the status of the two tight ends. Logan Thomas is off the PUP list, but we still do not know when he will be ready for contact. Cole Turner is inching closer to recovering from his hamstring injury, although it will take some time for him to acclimate to the speed of the game. I think we could see that combination at some point, but we may need to be patient.

Dwalyn M.: Since the Commanders cut Kelvin Harmon, are there any grounds for him joining the practice squad?

Since we're getting close to the time for teams to announce their practice squad roster, I think this is a good opportunity to explain how the practice squad works for NFL teams.

According to a rule change by the NFL earlier this year, teams can have 16 players on the practice squad this season. Ten of those players can have no more than two accrued seasons. So, the majority of spot are meant for players the team is trying to develop and eventually get elevated to the active roster at some point.

The other six spots do not have any limitations, meaning veterans can be allowed on the practice squad.

Kelvin Harmon was last on the field for a game in 2019, so he is still eligible for the Commanders to bring him back to the practice squad if they choose to do so. They have a few more days to make the decision, so we will see if Harmon comes back in that capacity.

Blake S.: Would you say Dax Milne could be a good punt returner for the Commanders?

I think he could be, Blake, and more importantly, it looks like the coaching staff thinks he could be, too.

The Commanders have only had four punt returns in the past two preseason games, but Milne has returned two of them for a combined 21 yards. That may not seem like much, but Milne does two things that are paramount to success as a return specialist: he makes clean catches, which Ron Rivera and Nate Kaczor have said is the first priority, and he makes smart decisions once he has the ball in his hands.

I've predicted that Milne is going to make the cut again in his second season, and his return abilities play a role in that.

David V.: I want to know more about Jeff Zgonina. This dude is huge. How old is he? Height and weight? How much can be bench, squat and deadlift? What part of the country is he from and what kind of name is Zgonina? He looks as big or bigger than Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.

That's a lot of information to ask for, some of which I don't have, but I'll do my best to enlighten you on the Commanders' defensive line coach.

First, yes, Jeff Zgonina is a massive human being. His Pro Football Reference page says he is 6-foot-2 and weighed 285 pounds during his playing years, although he probably doesn't weigh that much anymore. I'm not sure how much he can bench, squad or deadlift, but a quick search on his combine metrics tells me he repped 225 30 times at the 1993 NFL Scouting Combines in addition to recording a 4.94 40-yard dash and a 32-inch vertical. He went to college at Purdue and was born in Chicago.

All of that is fascinating information, but the most important thing I have learned about Zgonina is that his priority is helping the Commanders' defensive line improve and win a championship.

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