The Washington Commanders will kick off their training camp program on July 27th. That gives us a little over a month to take a closer look at several questions surrounding the roster. With competition always a keyword with Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera, it’s a fair question to ask; what are the top five roster battles heading into training camp?
With this not being a big year for Washington in free agency, the majority of the players on the roster are holdovers from last season or rookies. That should make for at least a handful of heated roster battles come August.
Heated Competition At Guard
It’s almost impossible to not mention the offensive guard position when you have the roster battle conversation with this team. All-Pro right guard Brandon Scherff exited via free agency this offseason, and the team also released left guard Ereck Flowers in an attempt to free up much-needed cap space.
The two moves saved the team over $30 million but left a huge void in the lineup. Good thing for Washington that John Matsko governs by scheme, which means his system wins out over big names. While the team already has Wes Schweitzer, they also added Andrew Norwell from Jacksonville and Trai Turner from Pittsburgh. They also drafted Chris Paul out of Tulsa in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Adding Norwell and Turner proved to be Washington’s biggest free agency moves in an offseason defined more by the trade they made to bring in Carson Wentz than anything else. While the Wentz trade took the headlines, signing Norwell and Turner could be massive hauls if they can keep the two former Panthers healthy.
For Turner, it’ll be his third team in two years after being traded to, then released by the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020, then picked up, started all 17 games, and wasn’t resigned by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After having a nagging groin injury and missing seven games in 2020 Turner didn’t miss a game in 2022 but did injure his knee in the last week of the season.
Norwell has had a couple of stints on the injured reserve in his career, his last trip being in 2020. The eight-year veteran started all 17 games in Jacksonville last season for the Jaguars and comes to Washington on a team-friendly deal that pays him pennies on the dollar compared to what Flowers and Scherff were set to make.
Chris Paul was a three-year starter while at Tulsa who started games at both guard and tackle. The 6-4, 324-pound linemen should fit right into John Matsko’s scheme and push for a bigger role with time.
Schwitzer, quietly enough, is actually in the best position to take over at right guard barring a breakout performance from Turner in camp. Wes has played the swing-guard role and filled in rather well in the past few years when injury struck. The battle between him and Turner could prove to be a good one.
Safety Could Produce Great Roster Battles
While the safety position could produce one of the better roster battles in training camp for Washington, there are a couple of important things to remember in the process. Most who pay attention to the team regularly know that first of all, Kamren Curl is set in stone at the strong spot, and secondly, they use tons of three-safety sets. This means the team needs multiple players who can fit several separate roles.
Washington will look to defensive back Bobby McCain, second-year safety Darrick Forrest, and fourth-year fan-favorite Jeremy Reaves to sure up that free safety spot. McCain will also spend some time in the slot, a position he showed he can play rather well last season.
At this point, it’s a mystery as to how much rookie Percy Butler will play, but Rivera talked big on him on draft night. The idea is Butler, Forrest and maybe even McCain might each spend time at the ‘Buffalo-Nickel’ spot this year. Depending on how well Forrest has progressed this offseason the competition could get interesting on this one.
“Percy’s speed really shows,” Rivera said of Butler, who runs a 4.36-second 40-yard dash. “I mean, you watch him move around, and you go, ‘Wow. That dude can flat-out run.’ ”
The Receiver Room Has Improved
If you were to scan over Washington’s roster heading into training camp, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the biggest addition on the team this year, beyond the QB position, is at receiver.
Jahan Dotson coming at ya. pic.twitter.com/qqs31Qx6mv — Ben Standig (@BenStandig) June 16, 2022
That said, the biggest roster battle at the receiver position will likely be between Curtis Samuel and rookie Jahan Dotson. Samuel was the big-name free-agent signing last year who spent the entire season nursing a nagging groin injury. Dotson of course is the rookie with a huge pass-catching radius who never missed games while he was at Penn State.
Whoever wins this battle will line up opposite Terry McLaurin on gamedays, while the other will likely line up in the slot.
Behind those three the situation gets a bit murky. Dyami Brown was the guy Washington fell in love with as a rookie out of UNC last season. He has big-game speed and was known in college as being a sure-handed deep-ball target. He could press for more field time with a good showing in preseason, but his main roster competition will come from Cam Sims, who is desperate to breakout after showing some flashes last season.
The list of prospects after those five includes Dax Milne, Marken Michel, Kelvin Harmon, and rookie speedster Jequez Ezzard. Michel has shown small signs that he could push for that sixth receiver spot, but Milne is probably in the driver’s seat there at the moment. The fight for the last one to two receiver spots could end up being the best of the roster battles this team will see this season.
Starting Spots At A Premium
Washington is coming off of two consecutive seven-win seasons but has a roster where most all of the starting positions are already determined. It makes for a unique situation but doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of roster decisions to be made.
The dilemma this team will experience in terms of just who will they keep on the final 53-man roster will come in the depth department. In addition to the positions above you can expect them to have roster battles at the tight end and running back positions, albeit those roster battles will consist more so on how many the team decides to keep at each respective position. Players on the bubble will include RBs Jaret Patterson, Reggie Bonofon, Jonathan Williams, and Alex Armah, as well as TEs Curtis Hodges, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Armani Rodgers, and possibly Sammis Reyes unless they decide to keep four on the roster.
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