This time of year offers a rare opportunity for NFL players and coaches to take some time off before training camp begins, but it's also a time to reflect on what occurred during OTAs and minicamp.
Ron Rivera has plenty to ponder over between now and when the Washington Commanders report to Ashburn in late July.
This year's offseason featured several new wrinkles for the Commanders. Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett were directing a new offense brought in by Eric Bieniemy, and while much of the defense is the same, there were some additions in the secondary with Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin joining the group. There are some questions as to how these changes will work out in 2023, the team is largely confident in what it has seen so far.
Rivera broke some of what he saw in a recent interview with team analyst Logan Paulsen. Here are three of his biggest takeaways.
Eric Bieniemy has been a catalyst for change.
Rivera has used many of the same philosophies for 12 years, but he knew that he needed to try some different approaches as he entered his fourth season with the Commanders.
So, when Bieniemy talked about change in his interview to be the offensive coordinator, Rivera didn't disagree.
"I really thought that there were a lot of things that we could do better, a lot of things we could do differently," Rivera said.
When Rivera named Bieniemy the assistant head coach, he passed on some of the scheduling responsibilities to give Bieniemy more control over how practice is run. The results were noticeable from the first day of OTAs, as players quickly transitioned from one drill to the next and executed plays with efficiency.
The structure of practice was different as well. The days started with special teams drills; install period occurred earlier in the day; and the two sides of the ball didn't meet for 11-on-11 drills until around the second half of practice. There was also a stretching period implemented at the end of practice that players and coaches all participate in.
All changes, even small ones like the practice schedule, require an adjustment period, but for Rivera, that's part of the challenge.
"We challenged them to adapt and to grow," Rivera said. "And that's one of the things I'm really happy about more than anything else is just really how they changed, how they adapted, how they grew, how they learned."
Jack Del Rio is fired up about his new players.
The Commanders used their first two picks to address the depth in the secondary, which was an area of concern for the defense in the second half of the year. They took Forbes, who broke an FBS record for interceptions returned for a touchdown, and Martin, who can play at both the nickel and safety positions.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is fired up for what both players could mean for his defense, and Rivera can tell how excited he is.
"He's happy as a pig in slop," Rivera said.
Both Forbes and Martin have been seamless fits into the Commanders' defense. Granted, there's still a lot for both to learn, but the defensive backs stood out in OTAs and minicamp by consistently being around the ball and covering some of the Commanders' best pass-catchers.
Forbes and Martin are joining a defense that was already better than most with top five metrics in 2022. Rivera praised the work Del Rio did last season to incorporate some different ideas in terms of coverage. Those changes resulted in Washington allowing the fourth fewest passing yards in football.
As good as the secondary was last year, it was clear that Washington needed to bolster its personnel with more playmakers. Rivera believes the addition of Forbes and Martin have been critical as part of the "refining and retooling" efforts this offseason.
"They are really assimilating very well to what we do," Rivera said.
The West Coast offense will help get players the ball more effectively.
Bieniemy didn't just bring a new practice routine with him to Washington. He also brought in a version of the West Coast offense that the Kansas City Chiefs have used during their championship runs of the last few years.
All offensive concepts are the same in the NFL, so it's not like the Commanders are learning a completely new set of routes or running plays. The terminology, however, is vastly different, which is why Rivera called this offseason "more of a learning process."
Once the players get a firmer grasp on the system, the hope is that Bieniemy's version of the West Coast offense will do a better job of setting up their players for success.
"One thing you saw during their [the Chiefs] playoff run was...how they got the ball into their playmakers' hands so quickly," Rivera said. "How they relied so much on the underneath passing game, how they relied on just dumping the ball off to the back. ...And when you get these playmakers that we have in space, good things can happen."
Washington has an arsenal of players that thrive on short area quickness. Their top receivers -- Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson -- all possess that skill and can create separation at the line of scrimmage because of it. At running back, players like Antonio Gibson know how to work in space and use their speed to work through defenses.
When executed correctly, the system also takes some pressure off the quarterback by giving him quick decisions. Howell does have the arm strength to launch passes downfield, when necessary, but he also showed he has the accuracy and touch to be effective with short and intermediate passes.
The offense will be far from perfect once the regular season begins, but the change in style could lead to a noticeable difference in overall performance.