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Sam Howell believes he has 'total command' of Washington's offense


A year ago to the day, Sam Howell was entering training camp for the Washington Commanders firmly situated as the third quarterback on the depth chart with plenty to learn as a rookie. 

Now, as Howell heads into his second year, he has a legitimate shot to be the starting signal-caller for a franchise heading in a new direction. That's a drastic transition that Howell is not taking lightly. 

"It's a great opportunity for me to go out there and just show what I can do," Howell told reporters after the first practice of camp. 

Competing to be the starting quarterback is a difficult task on its own, but for the past few months, Howell has had to dedicated much of his time to learning the new offense Eric Bieniemy brought with him from Kansas City. The West Coast-based scheme has similarities to the Air Coryell approach, but it has still required him to essentially unlearn almost all of what he was exposed to last year. 

As Howell begins what will be the most critical stretch of his career so far, he feels like he's in a good place with the scheme. 

"I think at this point I have total command of the offense," Howell said. "I studied a lot this summer and tried to get really comfortable with the system obviously because it's new, and just tying my feet into the concepts that we're running."

Learning an NFL offense was cited by many as one of Howell's biggest challenges when he was going through the draft process in 2022. He broke multiple single-season and career passing records at North Carolina, but one of the chief criticisms about Howell was that he ran an offense with Air Raid qualities rather than a more traditional system.

Ironically, some of what Howell did in college is helping him learn Bieniemy's offense. The system, he said, relies heavily on RPO (run-pass option) plays, which is similar to what Howell ran in college. In fact, many of the concepts are the same.

"I'm very confident in my RPO game and I'm excited to have the ability to do that because I love that type of stuff and I think you can really make defenses wrong in the run game when you have the RPO ability," Howell said. "So, I'm excited that EB [Bieniemy] has kind of brought that stuff over to us."

Rivera said in June that he appreciated how much Howell has been "diving into" the work needed to be a starter. Studying the playbook is certainly part of that, but Howell has other methods of improving the mental aspect of his skill set. He does a lot of walkthroughs in his head and makes calls while watching film on his phone like he would call a play in the huddle.

For him, the most important goal is to keep the information fresh in his mind.

"Just trying to stay on top of that stuff throughout the break just so I don't have to come back here and try to relearn it all," Howell said.

All the extra studying has made Howell more confident in the system.

"I feel like in the spring I was kind of still learning because that was kinda the first time I saw all the information and now I've had that spring and now I'm really comfortable," Howell said. "Like when [Bieniemy] calls a play, I'm not even thinking about it. I know exactly what it is. I know exactly what my job is."

And while not every throw was perfect from Howell during his first practice of camp, Howell looked about as comfortable as one could be running through the offensive script. He started the day by throwing a dart to Jahan Dotson during 7-on-7 drills. Then, on the next play, he lofted a pass to Antonio Gibson, who had broken free near the left sideline.

During team drills, Howell calmly delivered one pass after the next with efficiency and accuracy. He and Logan Thomas connected on a pass near the middle of the field, and prior to that, Howell placed the ball exactly where Brian Robinson needed it to be, resulting in a one-handed grab.

Although Howell has only been "QB1" since OTAs, his teammates can see a difference in him.

"He's been showing it since OTAs, stepping up, being the leader, being vocal, making sure guys know where they need to be and putting guys where they need to be," Gibson said. "He looks relaxed, he looks fine and I'm excited about this year for him. I think he's going to do great and I'm looking forward to it."

As much as Howell has improved this summer, he believes "there's a lot of work left to be done."

"I'm not complacent at all," Howell said. "I know still everything is ahead of me and I still got to go out there and earn it and prove it each and every day, so I'm going to continue to do that."

Howell still has a long way to go before Rivera names a starting quarterback for the year. The first practice was a good start, though, and he's confident his skill set will speak for itself when that time comes.

"I know if I go out there on the field and play a type of football that I think I can play, everything will work out for itself."

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