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A lot has changed for Sam Howell as he begins preparations for his second season.
Last year, the quarterback was making his final preparations for the NFL Draft after a successful stint at North Carolina. About two weeks later, he was at the Washington Commanders' training facility in Ashburn, Virginia, going through rookie minicamp. While some had projected him to be taken with a Day 2 pick, he slid all the way to the fifth round, and with Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke on the roster, there was no doubt that Howell would slide in as the third signal-caller on the depth chart.
Now, as Washington goes through the first few days of its offseason workout program, Howell has a legitimate shot to be the Commanders' starting quarterback with coach Ron Rivera giving him every opportunity to do so. That is quite the shift, but Howell is looking to make the most of it.
"That's what I've been trying to do ever since I got here is get into this opportunity," Howell told senior vice president of broadcasting Julie Donaldson. "So, I'm definitely going to try to do everything I can to take advantage of it."
Howell, who collected several program records at North Carolina, never doubted that he could play in the NFL, and the fact that he led the NFL in passing yards during the preseason gave an inkling of credence to that assertion. But with Wentz as the definitive starter and Heinicke as the primary backup, Howell had to sit and learn for most of the year.
Howell was grateful for his time on the sideline learning from Wentz and Heinicke, but he still hoped for a chance to prove himself at some point during his rookie season. That came in Week 18 against the Dallas Cowboys, and his 204 total yards and two total touchdowns in a 26-6 win were enough to earn him a chance to compete for the starting job in 2023.
While Howell's first start was one of the few glimpses that fans had of his skill set, his growth was not surprising to general manager Martin Mayhew.
"I would say we've been very impressed with Sam Howell from start to finish," Mayhew said at the league owners meetings in March. "We saw him from the time that we drafted him last April. We saw him at rookie minicamp, saw him at OTA's, saw him at training camp, saw him practice the entire season, saw him go out and beat the playoff team in his first start. We feel very, very confident in Sam Howell."
Thanks to a combination of what he did on the field last year and the confidence he has gotten from Rivera and Mayhew, Howell is ready for whatever his second season will bring.
"I just feel a lot better coming into this year knowing that I learned a lot last year, and I know a lot of stuff now that I didn't know then," Howell said.
In order for Howell to earn the starting job, though, he will need to learn a new offense that assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy brought with him from the Kansas City Chiefs. Howell has never been in a West Coast scheme, but he is excited for the challenge of diving into the new system and soaking up as much knowledge as he can from Bieniemy.
"I expect a lot from him," Howell said of Bieniemy. "I know he is going to bring the energy. He's going to hold us to a high standard, and he's going to hold us accountable. For me, as a player, that's what I want in my coach."
At the same time, Howell will also be competing with veteran Jacoby Brissett, who joins the Commanders after a recent stint with the Cleveland Browns. His initial impressions of his fellow quarterback: Brissett is knowledgeable and a great teammate.
"He's been around some really good quarterbacks, and he's a really good quarterback himself, so just being able to pick his brain and have open ears to whatever information he has to offer, I'm super excited to work with him."
Like many quarterbacks, it has been a dream of Howell's to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, and now, after a year of being patient, he is poised to make that a reality.
And he doesn't intend to waste it.
"This organization is going to get everything I got," Howell said. "I'm just going to give this opportunity everything I have."