Benjamin St-Juste enters his third season with the Washington Commanders confident, focused, and ready to execute with a deeper knowledge of what it takes to thrive in the Commanders' defense.
"I've realized when I came into this league that being the fastest, the strongest, doesn't bring you so far," St-Juste said. "The mental aspect of the game is going to keep you in the league for five, 10-plus years."
St-Juste, a 2021 third-round pick, had collected plenty of first-hand experience in understanding the different positional needs of the secondary. After working as a perimeter corner during his rookie season, which was shortened because of injuries, he was moved inside to work in the slot in 2022 before being moved back to the outside after William Jackson III was injured and ultimately traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
St-Juste matched up well against opposing teams' No. 1 receivers, and the move seemed to help stabilize the Commanders' defense. A sprained ankle, however, left him hobbled in the final third of the season and only appeared in one of the team's final six games.
Now that the team has Emmanuel Forbes as the starting perimeter corner opposite Kendall Fuller, St-Juste has moved back to covering the slot, and St-Juste has spent the offseason fine-tuning the mental aspects of the position to put the secondary in the best position to win games.. Watching his film, teammates, and building up his confidence have all been part of the bigger picture of improving St-Juste's presence on the field.
"I don't have to strain as much like I did my first two years trying to make up some ground because I didn't know where to be or like what the concept is going to be," St-Juste said. "Now that I know and I've been playing two positions, I kind of know where I need to be so I don't have to run and try to make up for some plays because I'm late. I'm usually like two, three steps ahead of what the offense is doing so I can just chill in that spot, wait for the ball and make a pick."
Corners are known for their speed and ability to track offense steps ahead, St-Juste brings that and more. Building up his game mentally and physically has transitioned how he sees the field and can be a part of Washington's defense.
"A lot of confidence," head coach Ron Rivera said of St-Juste. "He's now into the system three seasons and you see him play with confidence. You see how sure he is of his technique; how much stronger he is. He's a good physical corner for us with good length and so that's kind of cool. I think it'll be very helpful."
The benefit of St-Juste's versatility on the field is that coaches can tailor plays that specifically highlight his strength and speed.
"I think as a coordinator as a play caller it gives [Defensive Coordinator] Jack [Del Rio] confidence knowing that we can design something that will highlight and feature his ability," Rivera said. "We can design or highlight something that obviously will play to his strengths and allow us to do some things differently and that's one of the things that's been really good.
St-Juste's ability to transition from nickel to corner and back again has been "seamless," Rivera said.
"That's something that we're really pleased with. This game is a game of matchups and we [if] get in certain situations, would we be able to match him up in the slot? Well, depending on who it is, absolutely."
A pivotal part of this transition for St-Juste is making a clean transition after his rookie year and coming to terms with the differences between playing at a college level and being in the professional ranks.
"Understanding where you need to be, understanding where other players are around you, how they're going to play, where they're going to be when the balls thrown, you can utilize that," St-Juste said. "All the smartest players that you see in the NFL that've been playing for 10-plus years on the defense, they're generals out there. They understand everything. They can play multiple positions. So that's what I've been studying -- a whole bunch of film studying in the off-season."
The work St-Juste put in this offseason has been noticed and highly praised by the coaching staff. Assuming that can translate to game days, the trio of him, Fuller and Forbes could likely be the strength of the Commanders' secondary.
Take a look at the Washington Commanders traveling to Cleveland for their preseason opener against the Browns.
A morning roundup of content from the Washington Commanders on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023.
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Check Out What's On Commanders.com:
- Young fans take center stage on Commanders’ Kids Day
- 'They're doing a heck of a job': Bieniemy pleased with steady improvement from O-Line
- Training camp notebook, Day 13 | Jack Del Rio wants defense to start fast, create more turnovers in 2023
- Commanders’ Salute Day delivers connection, dose of fun to members of the military community
- Joey Slye, Michael Badgley embracing kicker competition
- Training camp notebook, Day 12 | Bieniemy thinks 'the sky could be the limit' for Howell
- Training camp notebook, Day 11 | Commanders value versatility in backend of WR room
- Commanders release first 2023 unofficial depth chart
- Training camp notebook, Day 10 | Commanders begin prep for preseason opener
- Commanders sign CB Jace Whittaker, release G Keaton Sutherland
- Chris Rodriguez plans to stick to his identity
- Training camp notebook, Day 9 | Practice gets chippy to end Week 2
- Forbes sheds light on his 'good luck' chains
- Training camp notebook, Day 8 | Fuller has seen steady improvement from Forbes
- Chris Paul 'grateful' to compete for starting LG spot
- McLaurin explains benefits of improving his mental health
- Training camp notebook, Day 7 | Commanders defense dominates in second day of pads
- Sam Cosmi loving move to guard, feels more comfortable at the position