The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team unless specified by a direct quote.
The Washington Commanders' offseason workout program is over, which means that all the coaches and players scattered to the wind for the next five weeks until training camp begins in late July.
It's hard to glean much from this point in the year, when the most we have to go on are noncontact practices with players only wearing jerseys and helmets, but we did learn some things about what Washington could look like in 2023. We now know that Sam Howell has a good shot of being the starter for Week 1; the tight end group could be one of the most productive on the team; and the secondary looks to be brimming with talent.
There are still some questions that simply cannot be answered until the regular season begins. That isn't going to stop us from speculating on them.
For the next five weeks, Commanders.com will be examining one burning question about each position group on Washington's roster. Here are the position groups we've covered so far:
Next up are the linebackers.
Can Washington get the most out of its personnel?
Linebacker is not one of the deepest positions for the Commanders, partly because it doesn't have to be. The team likes to utilize more defensive backs, so they're technically not in a traditional 4-3 that often.
Washington kept five on the roster last year, and it's likely that it will do the same this year. The team will have to make sure that it's maximizing the talent it has at its disposal.
Much of that will depend on whether Jamin Davis can continue with the positive strides he started making last year. After having an up and down rookie season, he ended up leading the team with 104 tackles to go with three sacks, nine tackles for a loss and two fumble recoveries in 2022.
Davis only participated in individual drills during OTAs while he recovered from a cleanup procedure. The Commanders still expect him to be at his best in Year 3.
"Like I always say, there's a lot left on the bone at the end of the day," Davis said. "So, I want to go out there and make those plays that are sitting right there for me."
Both Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio challenged Davis last season, saying that they needed more out of him. He responded well to that criticism by operating better in traffic, which he showed in a tackle for loss on third-and-goal against the Indianapolis Colts; improving his ability to rush quarterbacks, recording sacks on Jared Goff and Jalen Hurts; and using his athleticism to close the gap on pass-catchers in coverage.
"We had more splash plays and less, 'What the heck are you doing' plays," Del Rio said. "And we need that trend to continue."
With Cole Holcomb now playing for the Steelers, Washington needed another player to help call the defense on the field. They believe they have that in Cody Barton, who is coming off a career-high 136 tackles. He worked with the backups during OTAs, but that was mostly because the team wanted him to get a better grasp of the defense before he started calling plays. His coaches saw enough to get them excited about what he could be in their system.
"He was a green dot guy, he was making the calls," said general manager Martin Mayhew. "We think he's an ascending guy. I think he has a lot of upsides and we're looking forward to working with him."
And the Commanders believe they get more out of Barton than what was a highly productive season with the Seahawks.
"We think he's ready to step his game up," Martin said. "He showed that last year, and we're excited about the opportunity to work with him."
Other players, such as Khaleke Hudson, look like they're set to take another step forward in their development. Hudson has had an uneven career up to this point and was even cut after last year's training camp, although he was signed back on the practice squad.
Hudson got his first start in over a year in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys and performed well, recording seven tackles and a quarterback hit in the win. His coaches believe that the game was a turning point in his career, and it showed by the way he played in OTAs.
"Guys like Khaleke Hudson have really been playing outstanding," Del Rio said. "I think gained a little bit of confidence from that last outing against Dallas. He went out there and played really well, and so he's coming to the off season full of energy and getting a lot of reps because Jamin is not going."
Of all the positions on defense, linebacker has the most questions. Davis needs to continue his development; Barton needs to be the player the Commanders think he can be; and the depth needs to show up in meaningful ways.
For now, albeit in OTAs, it looks like there is a possibility some or all those questions can be answered in some form. Like several positions on the roster, there are still a lot of "ifs" that need to be answered. It'll be interesting to see how the position performs when contact is allowed in camp.