The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
The countdown to training camp has officially begun.
We are two days away from the Washington Commanders' first training camp under their new identity, giving the chance for dozens of players to make their case to be on the 53-man roster. And given Ron Rivera’s belief that the team is primed to take a step forward, there will be lofty expectations in the third year of his tenure.
Commanders.com will be breaking down each position and how they have changed in the past year. Here are the positions we have looked at so far:
Next up are the offensive linemen. The position was marred with injuries throughout the 2021 season with Washington needing to dig deep into its depth. And yet the group performed better than expected, finishing the season in the top 10 in terms of ESPN's pass-block and run-block win rates.
The group is healthier heading into training camp, but there will be some changes. Gone are Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers, and in their place are former All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and Pro Bowler Trai Turner. Both have connections to Rivera and offensive line coach John Matsko, so there should be little need for an adjustment period.
Both tackles are back and locked in for the foreseeable future. Charles Leno had one of the best performances of his career, receiving the second highest pass-blocking grade for a tackle from Pro Football Focus. Second-year pro Sam Cosmi missed eight games with injuries, but he was one of Washington's best offensive linemen when on the field.
One of the only major questions regards center Chase Roullier and when he will return. While he is confident in his progress, there's no timetable for when he'll be on the field. In the meantime, Wes Schweitzer will be taking snaps at center, although he and Turner will also compete for the remaining starting guard slot.
Rounding out the position are several players vying for a backup role. The more familiar names include Tyler Larsen, Saahdiq Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Keith Ismael and seventh-round draft pick Chris Paul. Rivera likes to keep plenty of offensive linemen on the roster, so there will likely be nine or possibly 10 spots up for grabs.
- Brandon Scherff
- Ereck Flowers
- Chris Paul
- Andrew Norwell
- Trai Turner
-- A new look in the interior: Scherff manned the right side of the offensive line since 2015, but with the Pro Bowl player set to suit up for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington needed a replacement. Enter Norwell, who has been an exceptional player in his own right. He started in 111 games over the course of his eight-year career, earning first team All-Pro honors during his final season with the Carolina Panthers in 2017.
On the other side of the center, Turner is bringing five years of Pro Bowl experience during his days with the Panthers. He was one of the best guards in the league for five seasons. He's excelled the most as a pass-blocker, although he's also a well-rounded run-blocker.
Washington was mostly quiet during free agency, but as two of the few moves it made in the offseason were bolstering the front, it was clear the team wanted to make the offensive line a priority.
-- Sam Cosmi's development: Cosmi was placed as the Week 1 starter at right tackle as a rookie from the first practice of 2021 training camp, and while he did deal with injuries throughout the season, he received consistent praise for his growth.
Now that he's heading into his second season and doesn't have to fight for a starting job, Cosmi has spent the offseason building his technique. He wants to be seen as the best right tackle in the NFL, and his coaches saw the improvements he made during OTAs.
PFF's Mike Renner picked Cosmi as one of his candidates for a Year 2 jump, so if he continues to develop as predicted, there could be some big things in his future.
-- Competition at guard: Turner has the acumen to be one of the Commanders' starting guards in 2022, but he isn't the only player who could make the spot his own.
Schweitzer, who has been with the team since 2020, has been a reliable backup and starter for Washington since he arrived in the DMV from the Atlanta Falcons. He started 13 games in 2020, and when Roullier went down in 2021, he started at center before missing the final six games.
It should be one of the few battles to watch throughout camp, but Washington is in a good spot no matter who wins the competition.
The Washington Commanders busted out the new uniforms for Media Day earlier this month. Check out the top shots of the players wearing the new Burgundy & Gold. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
What to watch
-- Can the group stay consistent? Washington's offensive line deserves all the applause it got after weathering the injury storm in 2021. It isn't easy to stay so consistent with multiple backups being worked into the starting lineup, but it's a credit to Matsko and Washington's depth that it was never a point of major concern.
With the interior going through a makeover, the biggest question is whether the group can do it again. For what it's worth, there are positive signs. Both new guards are proven veterans, and there are several depth players who now have starting snaps.
Still, potentially 40% of the starting lineup will be new in Week 1, and as good as it was to have solid backups, it isn't ideal to rely on them throughout the year.
So, there are some questions, but given how Matsko has handled the group so far, it has earned the benefit of the doubt.