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Jer'Zhan Newton excited to learn from Jon Allen, Daron Payne

FILE -  Illinois defensive lineman Jer'Zhan Newton rushes the quarterback during an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
FILE - Illinois defensive lineman Jer'Zhan Newton rushes the quarterback during an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

It's going to be a while before second-round pick Jer'Zhan Newton can get on the field with his teammates.

Newton, who the Washington Commanders took with the 36th overall pick and missed all the pre-draft process with a Jones fracture in his right foot, had successful surgery on his left foot for the same issue. There is no timetable on Newton's recovery, but it is almost a guarantee that he will not suit up until at least the start of training camp in late July.

In the meantime, he intends to learn and be involved as much as possible, particularly from Pro Bowl defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.

"You're talking about guys I used to watch when they was in college, so transitioning to the NFL, of course, I still watched them," Newton said after he was drafted. "Playing next to those guys, outstanding, an amazing feeling. [They're] Older guys who have had success [in] college and in the NFL. So, I'm really happy."

Allen and Payne, both first-round picks by the Commanders in 2017 and 2018, respectively, have been mainstays on Washington's defense for years now and have become one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league. They have combined for three Pro Bowl appearances and 69 sacks in their career. Both rank in the top 20 on the team's all-time sacks list.

The two were just as dominant in college. Allen won multiple defensive player of the year awards in 2016, recording 10.5 sacks and 69 tackles, while Payne was named defensive MVP in Alabama's national championship win over Georgia in 2017.

As an aspiring college player at Clearwater Central Catholic, Newton was intimately aware of both Allen and Payne's accomplishments.

"I don't want to say they're old heads, but they're like OGs in the league by now," Newton said.

Newton followed Allen and Payne's path and became one of the best defensive linemen in college football at Illinois. He was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year; the conference's Defensive Lineman of the Year; and a First Team All-American. He tied a program record with 18 career sacks in 2023 and had the most pressures (103) for a defensive lineman over the past two seasons.

Despite all that, Newton slipped out of the first round. General manager Adam Peters said the Commanders "could not believe he was still there" when they were on the clock with the No. 36 overall pick. Taking Newton was considered a luxury for them, his skill set was not one they could pass up.

"He got the Commander tag and he's exactly who we want to bring in this building," Peters said. "We think he's an advanced player who can come in and play right away. Really a three-down player who you can play on the run downs, play on pass downs, skilled, hands and feet are tied together."

The rookies and veterans were on the field for the first time as they began OTA practices. Check out the top photos of Jayden Daniels working with Terry McLaurin, Brian Robinson and more.

Now, Newton gets to join two of the players he grew up watching and trying to emulate, and he feels like he fits in well. He sees himself as a "dominant" defensive player whose knowledge of the game is higher than other players at his position. Allen and Payne are going to get most of the snaps as veterans and starters, but Newton is confident that he'll slide into whatever role they give him.

"I have a great pre-snap recognition," he said. "I know which plays coming at which down and distance, which formation brings which play. So, I just feel like my knowledge on the game is very high compared to other people."

First, however, Newton must get on the field, which will take some time as he recovers from his surgery. Head coach Dan Quinn called the injury "unfortunate" but didn't seem concerned about having to wait for Newton to get healthy.

"He'll get a procedure done in the next week and then get back started and get going with the process again," Quinn said May 11. "But man, do we have high hopes for him. Like he is such a kick ass competitor. So, in some ways when you have to get a procedure done, better to do it early, that this didn't happen in the end of August or in September where it sets you back."

And the Commanders are willing to be patient with a player like Newton.

"And he arrives violently when he gets to the ball and he plays just like we want him to play," Peters said.

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