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 safeties. Like the cornerbacks, the group did not meet many of the expectations set during the 2021 offseason. While things did smooth out later in the year, the secondary finished the year averaging 254.9 passing yards allowed per game, which ranked 29th in the league.
Also, in a similar fashion to the cornerbacks, Washington believes that continuity will help the group improve from last season. That's why it was a priority for the Commanders to re-sign Bobby McCain, who was brought in on a one-year deal back in 2021 and finished a career-high 63 tackles and four interceptions.
Opposite him will be third-year pro Kam Curl, a former seventh-round pick who has become one of the Commanders' key defensive pieces. Curl took a step up as a run defender, as he had 99 tackles to go with a sack and three quarterback hits. Curl continues to be a versatile tool for Jack Del Rio, so while he's technically a safety, expect him to be all over the defensive backfield.
Fourth-round pick Percy Butler is the newest addition to the group. Butler is expected to have an immediate impact by Rivera because of his physicality, versatility and toughness. He is an immediate candidate for the Commanders' "buffalo nickel" position, but he should see plenty of action regardless of where he plays.
- Landon Collins
- Deshazor Everett
- Percy Butler
-- How much will Butler play? Rivera made some bold claims to Julie Donaldson about Butler in a post-draft interview. The Commanders still plan to use three safety looks, meaning Butler could play in about 53% of the snaps, and that's a credit to Butler's versatility, speed, quickness and play smarts.
"Fifty-three percent of the snaps pretty much says you're a starter," Rivera said.
Butler certainly has the resume to warrant the playing time. Over the course of 866 career cover snaps with the Ragin' Cajuns, Butler only allowed one touchdown and a 52.75 allowed completion percentage. Last year, he had eight coverage stops to go with four forced incompletions.
PFF notes that Butler has the kind of athleticism "to make staying in receivers' hip pockets effortless." And to drive that point home even further: Butler has never allowed more than 200 yards in a season, two of which were less than 100.
Butler ended OTAs on a good note, so he has plenty of momentum in his favor heading into camp.
-- Who will be the fourth safety? Three of the top safeties seem like a lock. Curl, McCain and Butler will be the core of the group heading into the 2022 season. In terms of who will be next on the depth chart, that answer is a little murkier.
One possible answer is Reaves, who has managed to stick around since 2020 and been one of the starting safeties in a pinch. Reaves only played in five games last season, but he did record a career-high 29 tackles.
Forrest could be another option. A 2021 fifth-round pick, Forrest did not see much of the field as a rookie but saw most of his snaps on special teams. He was one of the standouts from OTAs, though, providing strong coverage and nearing intercepting passes from Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke.
Washington kept five safeties last season, so it's possible both players find their way onto the roster. Either way, it will be interesting to see who climbs further on the depth chart.
What to watch
-- Can the secondary bounce back? This question was posed to the cornerbacks, but it's just as applicable to the safeties. Fans have seen the group perform at the top and bottom of the league, although there is belief that their performance will be more reminiscent of 2020.
The good news is that Washington's slate of quarterbacks isn't as imposing compared to last season. Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill and Dak Prescott should be challenges, but there also signal-callers like Davis Mills and Trevor Lawrence on the schedule.
If the defense can get closer to how they looked in 2020, life will be much easier for Washington this season. We'll get a taste of why the group is so confident once camp begins.