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'He's so polished': Dotson quickly becoming one of Howell's favorite targets

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Preseason statistics shouldn't be interpreted as gospel, but it's clear that Sam Howell and Jahan Dotson are building a strong rapport.

Howell is focused on building chemistry with all of Washington's weapons, but he and Dotson have been clicking since camp began. Dotson has been targeted nine times in the preseason -- more than any other player on the Commanders' roster -- and he has seven receptions for 106 yards, which is seventh among all NFL receivers.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Howell and Dotson are destined to be one of the league's best duos in 2023, but it's a positive sign of growth in their relationship.

"Jahan is so special," Howell said. "He's so polished … I was a huge fan of his when he was in college, and I'm so excited to play with him."

Like the rest of the receivers on the Commanders' roster, Dotson didn't have much experience catching passes from Howell when OTAs began in June. There were certainly promising signs of what their connection could look like during Washington's 2022 season finale against the Dallas Cowboys -- Dotson caught three of his four targets from Howell, amassing 72 yards in the 26-6 victory -- but a handful of snaps together is hardly enough to say the two have an electric combination.

Over the past month, though, Dotson has become one of Howell's most reliable targets. His route running, coupled with his ability to get open and find soft spots in coverages, has made things easier for Howell as he adjusts to being the Commanders' starting quarterback.

Plays like the downfield strike Howell had to Dotson down the middle of the Commanders' defense during 11-on-11 drills on Aug. 15, which prompted Terry McLaurin to yell out "That's all day!" from the sideline, are impressive, but how the two perform against other opponents in game scenarios is a better indicator of their connection.

The best example of that came during Washington's first preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, when the Commanders' starting offense ended their final drive of the night with a Dotson score. On first-and-10 from the Browns' 26-yard line, Howell floated a pass to the wideout, who then tipped the ball to himself, ducked between two defenders and jogged into the end zone.

After the game, head coach Ron Rivera described the play as "pretty sharp."

"It was a pretty-well thrown ball, but...Jahan is so athletic in his ability just to make that kind of catch, and then he just reverses his field," Rivera said.

The following week, Dotson was one of Howell's favorite targets during Washington's joint practices with the Ravens. He consistently beat the Ravens' defensive backs in one-on-one drills, and he once again flaunted his ability to get open during 11-on-11 drills against the Ravens' starting defense.

Dotson's growth, as well as his comfort working in Eric Bieniemy’s offense, is part of the reason why he has been such a safe target for Howell. "I can move everywhere, I can run every route on the route tree," Dotson said, and he appreciates how Bieniemy is putting him in the best position to exercise that talent.

"He's giving me the freedom to do that and put my own sauce on things. That's what you want in a coach. Someone who trusts you and believes in you to get open."

Check out the best photos from the Washington Commanders' second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

And Howell is giving him chances to be a more potent offensive weapon. That was the case against the Ravens, when the Commanders had the chance to score with 1:34 left before halftime. Howell targeted Dotson five straight times, starting with a 16-yard pass on first-and-15. Dotson was wide open on the route after shaking Ravens cornerback Kyu Kelly, and after attempting to juke a few defenders, he set Washington up at the Ravens' 49-yard line.

Dotson secured another clutch throw three plays later, this time on a third-and-10, with a 17-yard reception that on a pass that was tipped by a Ravens' defensive tackle. Dotson made his third catch -- a 21-yard pickup -- on the following play that moved Washington to the 11-yard line, which ultimately led to the team scoring a touchdown on an 11-yard catch from Dyami Brown.

"He trusts in me," Dotson said of Howell. "When I'm dead tired and I can't even run a route, he shows that trust in me that I'm going to get open and make a play for the team. That's all you want in a quarterback, someone who trusts you. I know he's going to put [the ball] in the right spot, it's up to me to get open and make a play."

Although Dotson and Howell will get more reps together in practice, Monday's game was likely the last time we'll see the two together in a game scenario until Week 1. It's a limited sample size, but it should be enough to get fans excited about what they could be in 2023.

"I've seen him develop a lot over the past year," Dotson said of Howell. "Going from being a third string quarterback to taking over the offense, he is doing it with tremendous pride and he's coming in every day and he's working hard, making sure that he puts himself in a position to succeed. We're trying to make his job easier."

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