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Training camp notebook, Day 6 | Offense shows progress in first padded practice

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Practice was popping -- literally -- for the Washington Commanders on Day 6 of training camp. 

Tuesday marked the first days of pads in camp for the Commanders, and as expected, all the players were hyped up for it. 

"Everyone is geeked up about it," said offensive lineman Sam Cosmi. 

There was much to be learned about the Commanders during Week 1 of camp. The defense, a top five unit last year, looks like it's set to have another strong season, and Sam Howell, who is sitting atop the depth chart at quarterback for now, has shown flashes of what he could be as the starting quarterback for 2023. 

But putting the players in pads allows for the coaches to get a better evaluation of the team's progress. Coach Ron Rivera made that clear before practice, calling the day a "tone-setter." So, how did Rivera feel about what he saw? There were "a lot of positives from it." 

"The tempo did get ramped up a little bit," Rivera said. "And there was some energy out there. That's what we're looking for."

Rivera has a list of things he looks for whenever he watches padded practices. He wants the players to show that they have some coordination and continuity from the different positions. He's also keeping his eyes open for the players who enjoy and look forward to contact.

Rivera also wanted to see how the players would handle the changes to their schedule. He told them before practice that he and the coaches were going to add more to their workload today. In addition to goal line drills, the offensive line and defensive line spent about 15 minutes running 1-on-1 pass protection drills. While the receivers and defensive back were running their own 1-on-1's, the rest of the offense was running inside drills, which emphasize running the ball.

From what Rivera saw, the Commanders handled practice the right way.

"I thought they practiced smart," Rivera said. "We try to get them to play with their eyes and not the top of their heads, and I think the guys are doing a real nice job with that."

The Commanders have three more fully-padded practices before their first preseason game against the Browns. It will be on the team to make sure it's getting the most out of that work.

Here are some more observations from Day 6 of camp.

-- The main story today was whether the offense, specifically the offensive line, would improve with the pads on. It still wasn't perfect, but the unit did perform better than it did in previous practices. The day started with the team running inside running drills and 1-on-1's between the defensive backs and receivers. During inside drills, Cody Barton started things off with a tackle for loss on Brian Robinson, but as the drill wore on, the offense made more progress. Chris Rodriguez gashed the defense with a run up the middle, and a few plays later, Jonathan Williams escaped down the right sideline for a decent gain.

-- On the other side of the field, the receivers were getting the better of the defensive backs, starting with a catch by Jahan Dotson working against Benjamin St-Juste. Later on in the drill, Kyric McGowan made a catch that got a few cheers from the fans in attendance. Dax Milne also had a strong period with three catches against his competition. But the catch that got the most attention was a grab by Dyami Brown, who made the reception in the end zone while lined up against St-Juste.

-- Next up were 11-on-11 drills with both starting units working against the backups. Howell opened things up with a pass to Dotson, which led to Antonio Gibson running straight through the middle of the defense.

-- Goal line drills were perhaps the best part of the day for the offense as a whole. This time, the second group went first, and four plays ended with touchdowns. Two of those scores came from Alex Armah -- one reception and one rush -- but Jaret Patterson and Curtis Hodges also got into the end zone. The starting offense didn't have as much success with the defense stalling the unit at the 1-yard line on multiple plays. They ended things on a positive note, though, with a touchdown pass to Logan Thomas.

-- The team split once again with the offensive and defensive lines going through 1-on-1 pass protection drills. Players like Chase Young and Jonathan Allen were impressive, getting wins over Charles Leno and Saahdiq Charles, respectively. On the offensive side, Nick Gates and Sam Cosmi were among the offensive players who stood out the most. Cosmi, who is still adjusting to his spot at right guard, showed exceptional quickness in his ability to mirror Daron Payne and managed to stay in front of the Pro Bowler when he tried to cut back to the quarterback.

-- Of all the reps that the offensive and defensive linemen ran during 1-on-1's, the matchup between Mason Brooks and Phidarian Mathis got the most hype. Brooks, an undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky, stood up Mathis on back-to-back plays, causing plenty of excitement from the offensive players and coach Juan Castillo.

-- Finally, Terry McLaurin had the catch of the day, bringing down a pass by tipping the ball in the air and diving for the grab. Check it out for yourself.

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