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Sam Howell named Commanders starting quarterback


Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said before the start of the offseason workout program that Sam Howell would receive every opportunity to be the team's starting quarterback for Week 1. 

Now, after weeks of seeing the young quarterback make the most of those opportunities, he's concluded that Howell has earned the right to keep the job. 

Howell, who operated as "QB1" for all of OTAs, minicamp and the last three weeks of training camp, will be the Commanders' starting quarterback, Rivera announced Friday morning. The decision comes days after Rivera heaped praise on Howell for how he led the team's offense during joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens, a key benchmark for the quarterback's development under center. 

"His decision making was exceptionally good, and he delivered on time for the most part," Rivera said. "When he went off platform, scrambled around a little bit, his eyes were downfield. He was able to find guys and make those kinds of throws and plays that you need to, to help the team keep going forward."

Although Howell has been in a competition with Jacoby Brissett since the start of OTAs, he has taken almost all of the starting reps in practice and operated as the starter in the Commanders' preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. His growth at the position has impressed Rivera and the rest of the coaching staff, and they are confident in his ability to lead the unit.

"Probably the biggest thing that I'm really pleased about has been his decision making, and that has been a big plus," Rivera said.

In his first bit of action as the starter in a game scenario, Howell completed 9-of-12 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown over the course of three drives. He made quick decisions, delivered accurate passes and protected the football. He was 5-of-7 on the Commanders' 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson.

But Howell's poise and calm demeanor in the pocket is what impressed Rivera and his coaches the most, particularly during the Commanders' two practices with the Ravens.

"I think he sees the field really well, and he's going to give us chance to make opportunities on the perimeter, which has been great," receiver Terry McLaurin said after Tuesday's practice. "His timing I felt...was really good with us today. As soon as we were getting out of our breaks -- all of the receivers -- the ball was right there, and it gave us a chance to run with it as well."

"There is a calmness" to Howell, Rivera said, that helps refocus his teammates in the huddle. That was the case on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the physicality between the Commanders and Ravens led to a few skirmishes between plays.

"There was a lot of emotion out there, and he had to stay cool and...calm and kind of exude that to his teammates to get them refocused and practice," Rivera said. "And that's probably the most important thing is you lead your guys through situations like that...and it kind of showed today. I was really pleased with that."

As for how he has handled the competition and anticipation for Rivera to name a starter, Howell elected to "take it one day at a time and try to do everything I can to take advantage of the opportunity."

"It really doesn't matter to me as far as when," Howell said. "I'm confident in my abilities. If they make the decision tomorrow or if they make it the night before the game, it doesn't matter. I'm confident in my abilities and I know I can go out there and play well and be successful and give my team a chance to win."

The title, Howell said, doesn't affect his work ethic, and he knows there is still plenty to work on.

"I think there's still things that I can improve on and show improvement on. I'm still not satisfied with my development. I still think there's things I can improve on, but I do feel like I've put myself in a good spot."

And as he prepares for his second season, now officially cemented as the starter, Howell intends to keep building his skill set.

"I'm kind of just playing instinctive at this point," Howell said. "I'm going back to just playing football at this point. There's not really much thinking going on because I'm very comfortable with the offense.

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