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New era gives Emmanuel Forbes 'a fresh start'

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There's a wave of change covering the Washington Commanders, as the franchise has been filled with new coaches, free agents, draft picks and members of the front office over the past five months.

For players like Emmanuel Forbes Jr., it's a chance to hit the reset button early in his career.

"It's definitely a fresh start," Forbes told reporters May 14.

Forbes, the Commanders' first-round pick in 2023 and the FBS leader in interceptions returned for touchdowns, was brought in to help fix the team's problems with creating turnovers and preventing explosive plays. While he did improve over time, it still wasn't the performance he had hoped for, as he ended his rookie season with just one interception while allowing 636 yards from receivers.

But now there's a new staff in town with fresh philosophy and vision for the defense. Both could end up being exactly what Forbes needs to maximize his skill set.

"They demand perfectness," Forbes said of the new coaches.

It seemed like the Commanders had finally found a solution to one of the only problems their defense had in 2022. After finishing that season ranked 26th in turnover differential and 28th in interceptions, they got the cornerback that picked off passes better than most in college football. Never mind the 166-pound frame he had at the combine; the numbers spoke for themselves. He had 14 interceptions, 22 pass breakups and 149 tackles in three seasons at Mississippi State.

Forbes can still be the ball-hawking defensive back that Washington hoped he would be, but his rookie season was objectively uneven.

Forbes' debut went as well as possible. He allowed one catch on three targets, amounting to a gain of just eight yards. Three weeks later, however, Forbes had his worst game of the season, giving up 197 yards and two touchdowns to A.J. Brown on nine catches. Two games after that, he was benched against the Atlanta Falcons in hopes that watching from the sideline would give him a chance to watch, learn and gain a different perspective.

"I've never been benched before," Forbes said at the time. "But it was like a learning experience. Luckily, I talked to my guy, [Eagles cornerback] Darius Slay, and he's been benched before, and he said to just keep my head up and keep coming to work."

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.

Although Forbes still had growing pains for the rest of the season, being benched did seem to have a positive effect on his play. He looked impressive against the New England Patriots -- the Commanders' final win that season -- earning a 91.3 grade from Pro Football Focus for allowing just two catches on seven targets, allowing a passer rating of just 39.6.

Still, the combination of up-and-down games, plus finishing the season with eight straight losses, left a sour taste in Forbes' mouth.

"I'm just gonna get my mind right first," Forbes said following the Week 18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. "And then I'm gonna get in the weight room and on the field and whatever happens next...I just gotta get in the playbook."

Now, Forbes is working with an entirely new staff in the secondary, led by defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. and head coach Dan Quinn. They're bringing with them a system that was one of the best in the NFL last season, ranking fifth in allowed, passing yards and fifth in points allowed.

It's on Forbes to learn that system, and so far, that effort has been going well.

"It's pretty simple, honestly," Forbes said. "We have meetings, and [we're] watching film and things like that. It's just learning the ins and outs."

The Washington Commanders partnered with APG Training to give their players special lessons in creating leadership and teamwork. Take a look at the top photos from the afternoon.