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Commanders Camp Takeaways: Defense Should Be Complete in 2023

The 24th team I’ve visited this summer is the one with new ownership and, seemingly, a whole new outlook. Here’s what I got from the Commanders 

1. The decision to take Emmanuel Forbes with the 16th pick—and over Oregon star Christian Watson—spurred a lot of conversation in Washington, but to this point, Forbes has been everything the Commanders imagined he would be. A big reason the coaches and scouts fell in love with him, to the point where he was a clear target (maybe the clear target) of theirs going into the first night of the draft, was his ball production. Ron Rivera & Co. knew they needed more in the way of turnovers, and creating them was Forbes’s specialty at Mississippi State. So far, the Commanders have gotten that. But what might surprise some people about Forbes is how quickly he, at 6’1″ and 166 pounds, has come into being aggressive and physical in the run game. And that showed up in Monday night’s game, when the rookie stoned veteran tailback Melvin Gordon on a third-and-1, a play a few folks at the facility Wednesday raised to me. If Forbes holds up physically at his size, it sure looks like Washington got a good one at a very important position.

At Mississippi State, Forbes tied for third nationally with six interceptions in 2022, returning three for scores.Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

2. We’ll have a lot more on Sam Howell on Monday. Just know for now there’s very little doubt in the building on what he can bring to the table. No one in Washington thinks the second-year pro looks like a fifth-round pick—and the Commanders are proving their confidence lies with Howell in how new coordinator Eric Bieniemy is building an offense specifically for him. The new look will, of course, have Kansas City hallmarks to it, while also highlighting Howell’s ability to make throws on the move.

3. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen got to a point this summer where they made it hard for the offense to have productive practices. Allen, in particular, looks ready to take another step, with a new, refined set of pass-rush moves promising to take his game on passing downs to another level. And Payne, after getting his four-year, $90 million contract, has been his normal disruptive self, which should make the D-line here a bear to deal with. And even more so if the Commanders are right with their optimism on seventh-round rookie Andre Jones Jr., a physically imposing end who oozes potential and is built like the two teammates he is in a position group with (Chase Young and Montez Sweat).

4. The offensive line is the biggest question area, but it does look like four spots are nailed down, with Charles Leno and Andrew Wylie at the tackles, converted tackle Sam Cosmi at right guard and Giants import Nick Gates at center. Left guard has been the question, and it looks like Saahdiq Charles has that one now, with Chris Paul backing him up. The one caveat there is rookie Ricky Stromberg, who has come on during camp and could wind up starting games at guard or center. If there are issues with Charles (or one of the other interior positions), Stromberg could wind up in the lineup. Also, I’d expect Bieniemy to use the run game to manage Howell and the line early on—and it could be, in part, behind another rookie. Sixth-round rookie Chris Rodriguez has shown aggression and efficiency as a runner in camp, and will have a role (maybe a big one) in the offense.

5. For defense, the safety position was probably the biggest trouble area going into camp, but Darrick Forrest—a third-year player who has steadily improved and is coming off a four-interception, 88-tackle season—looks ready to take another step next to Kamren Curl. And Jeremy Reaves, who went from camp body to practice squad member to Pro Bowl special teamer, has had another very solid summer. The Commanders feel good about the depth he will bring to the position, on top of being an ace in the kicking game for them. And if the Commanders are good at safety? The defense should be pretty complete, front to back.


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