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. After starting off with the defensive line, we're going to move on to the offensive line.
Who will step up at left guard?
The real question for the offensive line is whether it can stay healthy in 2023. That was not the case in 2021 or 2022, and the group suffered because of it. That question is almost impossible to answer, though, since injuries are unpredictable for any position group.
So, we're going to address the biggest personnel question for the group instead.
It seems strange to think that the Commanders have just one main position battle on the offensive line after the group went through so much restructuring this offseason. Charles Leno Jr. is staying put at left tackle, but Nick Gates is the new center, Sam Cosmi has been moved inside to right guard and Andrew Wylie was signed to be the starting right tackle.
We can't give a clear answer on how they will perform until training camp, but the Commanders feel confident in the moves they have made so far.
"We feel good about the depth right now and we gotta get through it, stay healthy obviously, and we think we're doing some things the right way," said head coach Ron Rivera.
The only spot left unanswered is at left guard, and there are two primary candidates for the role: fourth-year pro Saahdiq Charles, a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2020, and 2022 seventh-round pick Chris Paul.
The Commanders are giving Charles the first shot at earning the position for himself, as he took all the snaps with the starters. As Rivera said during OTAs, Charles has the skill set to be a starter. He has the right size (6-foot-4, 322 pounds) and quick feet to handle interior defenders. He also has the physicality to dig tackles out of running lanes and create gaps for running backs.
The problem is that Charles hasn't had many opportunities to show this skill set on the field. Injuries kept him out of all but one game as a rookie, and he only has seven starts since then.
"That always seemed to be the issue," Rivera said. "If you go back and look at the times he's played, something has come up whether it's been the calf, it's been the ankle, the shoulder. You just hope that he stays healthy because he has the skillset."
In fairness to Charles, that hasn't prevented Washington from giving him a shot, and while it's difficult to truly gauge the performance of the offensive line during noncontact practice, he held his own against Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and the rest of the Commanders' talented defensive line.
The lack of opportunities hasn't affected Charles' self-confidence, either.
"I want to win the spot," Charles said. "I want to prove it to my teammates and coaches and play...to my capabilities."
At the same time, the Commanders are not ruling Paul out of the competition. Paul only had one start last season, but Rivera began praising the former Tulsa offensive lineman long before that, saying that Paul's growth in practice caught his and his teammates' attention.
"They talk about him as being a guy that can lock you up," Rivera said of defensive linemen who approached him about Paul last year. "And they've told me unsolicited, they've come to me and said, 'Wow, coach, we gotta keep an eye on this kid.'"
Like with Charles, it's difficult to quantify Paul's growth right now, but he does feel like he has taken steps to improve his development.
"It's really shown in all aspects, every aspect of offensive line play," Paul said. "I think I'm really just grateful for the opportunity I get to progress day in and day out, and every day...no matter where I'm at in my career, it's gonna be a competition."
For now, we have to go off of what we know. Charles is viewed as the starter, and the only things capable of changing that are either improvement from Paul or regression from Charles. If things stay the same, then there is a good shot Charles remains the starter for the 2023 season.
It is important to emphasize that we'll get a better idea of where both players are at when the pads come on. Not only will that give them a chance to be more physical, but we will also see how they fare with blocking assignments in the running game.
The Commanders seem confident in both Charles and Paul, but only one can be the starting left guard. How each player looks in August will tell us all we need to know about who will be part of the starting lineup for Week 1.