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One burning question about Washington's wide receivers ahead of the 2023 season

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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, 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 wide receivers.

Who will claim the last remaining spots at the position?

In terms of questions that will be answered during training camp, the receiver position might have the fewest. We already know what the top of the group is going to look like. Terry McLaurin is going to be the No. 1 receiver with Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown filling in behind him.

That leaves the rest of the eight receivers on the roster to fight for one, possibly two positions on the 53-man roster.

Of those options, Marcus Kemp is the most experienced. Kemp, an undrafted free agent from Hawaii, has spent most of his NFL career with the Chiefs and appeared in one game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020. Kemp has mostly been a special teams player for his career and has four receptions for 42 yards. But Kemp's biggest advantage is that he is the most familiar with Eric Bieniemy’s offense.

There's also the competition for the kickoff and punt return roles consider. That role was filled by Dax Milne last season, and the seventh-round pick had a combined 611 return yards on 55 returns. While he didn't have many "splash" plays, he was reliable and did not fumble the ball, which special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor has said are the two most important factors in being a return specialist.

But there are other players on the roster who can challenge Milne's hold on the role, namely undrafted free agent Kazmeir Allen. Allen only returned kickoffs in the last two seasons of his college career with the Bruins but managed to become one of the better specialists in the Pac-12. He finished the 2021 season first in the conference with an average of 29.1 yards per return and 17th in the NCAA in return yardage (612). In 2022, he was third in the conference with an average of 24.6 yards.

The best look at what Allen could do in the role came during UCLA's 62-33 win over USC 2021, when he returned four kickoffs for 163 yards, including a 100-yard touchdown.

"He's smooth," Kaczor said. "He's working on his catch mechanics. We've made just a couple little adjustments with him that he's already adopted."

What Kaczor will be paying attention to once the players return to the facility for training camp is how Allen performs in high pressure situations. Allen has already dealt with pressure; he and the other undrafted free agents know they must find a role in order to stay on the team past August. But that pressure is only going to mount as he gets more comfortable and "the lights get brighter," Kaczor said.

"The No. 1 characteristic of a returner has to be reliability and catching the football," Kaczor said. "But he, right now, looks like he's got a nice skill set."

Allen had the coaches' attention before he stepped onto the field because of what he can do with the ball in his hands, and he's eager to do whatever he can to contribute.

"Special teams are a key part of the game," Allen said. "Just to get the offense down to the 35, 40-yard line every time, that's my goal, and you know, most importantly, score."

It would seem like Kemp, Milne and Allen are the most likely compete for the final spots at receiver, but the other Commanders' receivers on the roster like Mitchell Tinsley, Jalen Sample and Brycen Tremayne all had their high points during OTAs and minicamp. If they can keep that momentum going into training camp, they all should have a shot of getting on the roster.

It is important to note, however, that whoever wins those spots will need to have a larger role on special teams. So, while all the catches they make in 11-on-11 drills will obviously be important, whoever proves they can help the team in other ways will have the edge among their teammates.

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