Terry McLaurin is catching passes from a new starting quarterback this year once again, which ironically feels more familiar than foreign to him as he enters his fifth NFL season.
The Washington Commanders have fielded 10 different quarterbacks since McLaurin entered the league in 2019. He's caught passes from just about every level on the sliding scale of competence, from veterans like Alex Smith and Case Keenum to younger, less experienced players like Dwayne Haskins.
During that time, McLaurin has gotten to observe a variety of styles and approaches to the position. It hasn't taken long for him to see how Sam Howell plans to handle his opportunity as "QB1" this offseason.
"I think Sam has a real quiet confidence about him," McLaurin said. "He's not gonna tell people what to do, but he knows what he's doing when he gets out on the field."
Confidence is not a new trait for Howell, nor is McLaurin surprised that he has conviction in how he handles himself on the field. That much has been clear to the wideout even before Howell got the start in the 2022 season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, although the fact that he performed well enough to help Washington wrap up the year with a win did affirm his faith in the former Tar Heel.
"For him to come in and be aggressive the way he was, I think that says a lot about who he is and his ability to prepare," McLaurin said. "It was just so good to see him smiling and see that light coming on."
That game earned Howell a chance to be the starting quarterback during the offseason, and he has been presented with a new obstacle: commanding the huddle and directing the offense at the line of scrimmage.
It's an expectation of all starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but it's also something offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has stressed since OTAs began. He wants players to take charge, regardless of who is leading the offense. If the little things aren't right, he will bring them back to the huddle and restart the process.
All the quarterbacks have been given this reminder over the past two weeks -- Howell is no exception to this -- but McLaurin and his teammates have been impressed with how he has grasped the offense.
"He's very confident in his ability, and he's not afraid to give guys the opportunity to make plays," McLaurin said. "You can really tell he has a good grasp of playing football, especially for a young guy coming in with a pretty challenging offense."
Tight end Logan Thomas has noticed it, too. Howell's command, he said, has stuck out the most and "he hasn't even batted an eye" since he named the starter for the offseason.
"He came out just like he did in Week 18 last year, and he's been balling for us."
Howell has combined that knowledge with the willingness to give his teammates chances for big plays. There have been shades of that during OTAs: he laid out downfield shots for both Thomas and McLaurin during the first and second days of practice, respectively. Both were just a couple inches outside of their range, preventing them from completing the passes, but plays like that show that Howell is not afraid to trust his arm strength or his teammates in one-on-one situations.
To McLaurin, it's a call back to how Howell reacted when he threw an interception in the end zone against Dallas last year.
"He wasn't gun shy, and he wasn't afraid to go back out there and be aggressive," McLaurin said of Howell, who completed 8-of-13 throws following his interception.
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders going through their third day of OTAs. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Howell has yet to be named the starter for Week 1; that is still months away and dependent on whether he can win the job over Jacoby Brissett. Howell will not win or lose the job based on what he shows during OTAs and minicamp, but there are some qualities, such as taking command of a huddle or making sure players are in the right spot at the line of scrimmage, that can help strengthen the case that he can function in the role.
So far, Howell has lived up to those expectations.
"He's taken the bull by the horns, and he's really led us a lot this offseason," McLaurin said.