The Washington Commanders are in Week 3 of training camp, and don't look now, but they are just five days away from the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
The players are anxious for the chance to compete against another team.
"Most definitely," Percy Butler said after practice. "We got excited for every game. We get to hit somebody."
Every day is an evaluation in training camp, but more significance comes with preseason games. They serve as a litmus test for how players handle themselves in game scenarios as well as opportunities for players on the roster bubble to secure a spot.
While it's important to avoid looking too much into the results of games this time of year, the Commanders can answer some questions on Friday against the Browns. Most of those are about the offense and whether they can retain all the information Eric Bieniemy has thrown at them. The unit has also matched up against a top five defense from a year ago in camp, so how they perform against different competition will be something to watch.
Those thoughts are on coach Ron Rivera’s mind this week, but his primary concerns are bigger than that.
"Just where we are as a team," Rivera said. "That's probably the biggest deal. I love the way the guys are competing and practicing, but until you take off the restrictions, you really don't get a good, fair chance."
It would be fair to say the offense needs the live reps more than the defense, which is in the fourth year of playing in Jack Del Rio's system. The Commanders are running a new offense for the first time since Rivera became the head coach in 2020, and they want to see whether Sam Howell can take the proper steps towards being the starter for Week 1. Friday's preseason game will be the biggest obstacle Howell has faced up to this point.
Rivera hasn't determined how much the starters will play against the Browns, but there are several factors that will go into that decision.
"We've had a couple preliminary conversations about where we are and what we think we need to do, but again, it's still about being smart and understanding that we want to see a lot of things, but at the same time, we also gotta start preparing for the season and who we anticipate using during the season," Rivera said.
Let's take a look at some more observations from Day 10 of camp.
-- Sunday's practice was much better for the offense than Friday with Rivera praising the offensive line for doing "a heck of a job." Saahdiq Charles was back at practice in some capacity, but Chris Paul still took all the starting reps at left guard. He and Charles Leno worked well together during 11-on-11 drills with impressive reps on pull blocks and in space.
-- The bottom of the receiving corps has been fighting for one, possibly two open spots at the position, and players like Mitchell Tinsley are doing all they can to stand out. Tinsley made back-to-back plays during the first 11-on-11 period. The first was a leaping grab over Tariq Castro-Fields, and the second was near the opposite sideline on a dart from Jacoby Brissett.
-- Some injury news: Emmanuel Forbes was suited up and participated in individual drills but sat out for the rest of the day. Logan Thomas missed another day of practice with a slight calf issue, but Curtis Hodges was back on the field. Curtis Samuel experienced some tightness in the second half of practice and was on the sideline for the final two periods.
-- Chase Young showed off some athleticism during team drills by blowing up a screen play on the opposite end of the field. Young continues to stack strong practices and prove that his knee issues are behind him.
-- The tight ends and running backs worked with the linebackers and safeties on pass blocking today, and Khaleke Hudson was one of the clear standouts. He blew past players like Cole Turner and Brian Robinson with his speed and quickness, and he won far more reps than he lost during the session.
-- Darrick Forrest got his first interception of camp today on a pass from Howell. Tinsley was the primary target on the play, but Howell overthrew him on a deep pass downfield.
-- Two-minute drills have been dominated by the defense thus far in camp, but the starting offense did get some momentum today and capped things off with a field goal from Joey Slye.
-- The Commanders wrapped things up by running plays at their own 1-yard line. Howell had a strong day overall, but the period was perhaps the best he looked throughout practice. Howell excels at getting the ball out quickly, and he was able to lean into that strength with the pass-rush bearing down on him. On the first play of the period, he launched a pass downfield to Turner, who secured it for a 20-yard gain.