The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
The countdown to training camp has officially begun.
We are one week 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 high expectations on the third year of his tenure.
Commanders.com will be breaking down each position and how they've changed in the past year. Here are the positions we've looked at so far:
Next up are the tight ends. Like many of Washington's positions in 2021, the group dealt with multiple injuries that forced it to rely on its depth. Logan Thomas played in just six games because of injury, and backup Ricky Seals-Jones was inactive in four contests. That left rookie John Bates to handle the starting responsibilities.
Although mostly known as a blocking tight end, Bates performed well under the circumstances. He only dropped five of his targets and ended the season with 249 yards and a touchdown. And with his league-leading run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, Bates proved he can handle an expanded role when called upon.
Bates might need to take on a heavier load again, at least at the start of the 2022 season. Although Thomas should return at some point, his timetable is still undetermined. His absence should also make room for Cole Turner, who flashed at several points during OTAs, to get some early snaps.
Regardless of what the Commanders decide to do with Thomas' status before training camp, the first three spots on the tight end depth chart seem to be set. Going off the fact that Washington kept four players at the position last year, that leaves one spot open.
There are four candidates for the fourth tight end role. Antonio Gandy-Golden, who transitioned from wide receiver, needs to improve as a blocker but has strong ability as a pass-catcher. Sammis Reyes, who is still learning the position, has shown growth in the past year since signing with the team.
The newcomers include Armani Rogers and Curtis Hodges. Rogers played at UNLV and Ohio before signing as an undrafted free agent, while Hodges, who played at Arizona State, was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2021.
- Ricky Seals-Jones
- Cole Turner
-- Cole Turner's impact: Rivera created plenty of hype for Turner when he named the fifth-round pick as the player who excites him the most, and to his credit, Turner largely lived up to those expectations in OTAs.
Turner looked most impressive with the ball in his hands. He needs to develop more as a route-runner, but he has a wide catch radius and picks up speed after the catch. He can make some athletic grabs, which was a component Washington lacked from its tight ends without Thomas or Seals-Jones in the lineup.
Turner will likely play early if Thomas starts the season on the sidelines. Given how Wentz likes big targets, his 6-foot-6 frame should come in handy.
-- Antonio Gandy-Golden's development: It's unclear whether Gandy-Golden's move to tight end will work out, but he does have some tools that work in his favor.
Gandy-Golden's ability as a pass-catcher has carried over to his new position. He had a few standout grabs, which is what he was known for at Liberty.
The key for Gandy-Golden's future is whether he can develop as a blocker. The fact that he's bigger and stronger than in years past should help, although he'll still need to master the techniques. Rivera did see improvements throughout OTAs, but we won't see how good he can be until the pads come on.
-- Who will be TE No. 4? Gandy-Golden is one of the players who could be the Commanders' fourth tight ends, but he isn't the only one vying for the role.
Reyes, who has yet to see snaps outside of special teams, does have tools that could make for an exciting player. He's strong and athletic with a determination to succeed. However, he'll need to take more strides in camp to secure a spot.
Between Rogers and Hodges, the latter has received the most praise. Rivera mentioned his growth in an interview with Julie Donaldson, and former tight ends like team analyst Logan Paulsen were impressed with his snaps in OTAs.
Granted, the battle for the fourth tight end spots isn't going to excite many people in the moment, but considering how much Washington had to use its depth in 2021, it could still be an important competition.
What to watch
-- Thomas' recovery: Much of Washington's success at the position will depend on when Thomas can return to the field. While there is no set date, it was encouraging to hear from Thomas himself that the recovery is going as planned.
It's important to emphasize how much better Washington's offense performs when Thomas is on the field. He was one of the most reliable options for Washington back in 2020, when he put up career highs, and he was on his way to being that again after signing an extension.
The tight end position should be able to hold its own while Thomas recovers, but the Commanders will need him in order to meet their high expectations on offense.