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12Sep

Commanders emerge victorious via Full Carson Wentz Experience

It is not an exaggeration to say that, if not for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carson Wentz would not be a member of the Washington Commanders. A humiliating season-ending loss to the three-win Jaguars kept Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts out of the playoffs, infuriating owner Jim Irsay to the point where he felt a change was needed at quarterback.

“No disrespect to Jacksonville, but I mean, they’re the worst team in the league. You play well and hard for the first quarter or so, and they’re looking to go to their locker room and clean it out. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Irsay said. “You say, ‘My God, there’s something wrong here.’ It needs to be corrected. I think that we feel like we did.”

“Your guy’s gotta pick you up and carry you through Jacksonville. He has to do it. Not an option. Has to. No excuses, no explanations,” Irsay added.

It’s rare to see an NFL owner make such pointed remarks about a player, but to quote Ron Rivera and/or The Dude:

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Seeing an opportunity to upgrade at the game’s most important position, Washington traded a 2022 third-round pick and a 2023 third-rounder that can convert to a second-rounder based on incentives to acquire the North Dakota State product. And, as fate would have it, the Commanders welcomed Jacksonville to town for Wentz’s debut game in Washington.

Commanders fans were treated to the Full Carson Wentz Experience in the season opener, as the 29-year-old completed 27 of 41 passes for 313 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions and a QB rating of 101.0. The two interceptions came on back-to-back throws in the fourth quarter, the kind of soul-crushing mistakes that almost always spell doom.

But Wentz responded with touchdown throws of 49 and 25 yards to mount a 28-22 come-from-behind victory for the burgundy and gold. He threw for four touchdowns in a contest for the first time since 2017, but also nearly singlehandedly allowed the Jaguars to earn their first road victory in 18 games. Such is life when you’re playing for your third franchise in three seasons, it seems.

Wentz was not the only Commanders player who turned in a memory performance. Rookie receiver Jahan Dotson caught three passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns, wideout Curtis Samuel contributed 72 total yards and a touchdown and running back Antonio Gibson chipped in 130 yards in total offense as well.

Defensively, safety Darrick Forrest was everywhere — compiling four tackles, two passes defended, one forced fumble and an interception. Defensive lineman Daron Payne picked up a sack, batted down two pass attempts as he spent the majority of the afternoon in the Jaguars’ backfield.

14Aug

Commanders participate in meaningless exhibition game

It must be the preseason because fans are already starting to fall for a third-string quarterback.

With apologies to rookie quarterback Sam Howell, who performed admirably in his preseason debut for the Washington Commanders, this is an annual rite of passage. The season cannot legally begin until the local fanbase is completely smitten with an unheralded player from the bottom half of the roster — with bonus points awarded if that player is a developmental quarterback.

The ghosts of Taylor Jacobs, Marcus Mason, Jesse Lumsden, Colt Brennan (and countless other preseason fan favorites) nodded in approval as Commanders fans couldn’t contain their excitement over a meaningless exhibition game held during the dog days of summer.

On the day, Howell completed nine of 16 passes for 143 passing yards with two rushing touchdowns. The North Carolina standout’s first scoring drive was a seven-play, 74-yard adventure and then he followed it up with an epic 13-play drive capped by a two-point conversation that briefly gave Washington a 21-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. Sure, the Carolina Panthers marched right down the field and kicked the winning field goal on the ensuing drive, but again, this time of year is all about optimism.

So feel free to focus on the exploits of Howell or rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for a touchdown and, more importantly, didn’t fumble (the same cannot be said about Antonio Gibson, who has to be hearing footsteps after fumbling the ball away more times than any other back in the league). Quarterback Carson Wentz, who started the game and will be behind center once the games actually matter, had a serviceable afternoon. He wasn’t great. He wasn’t terrible. Best of all, he wasn’t inaccurate. Regardless of any numbers on the scoreboard, let’s just go ahead and call that a win. 

01Aug

Commanders training camp in full swing

As someone who has covered every NFL season in our nation’s capital since 2005, I pride myself on managing expectations. Too many training camp heroes have come and gone over the years — Taylor Jacobs, Marcus Mason, Colt Brennan and so many others who shined most when it mattered least — for me to rush to conclusions when players are in shorts and no pads.

So rather than gushing over players who, at best, will be inactive on Sundays, my focus during training camp is on areas that actually matter: like the offensive line, where two new guards become starters after Erick Flowers and Brandon Scherff moved on. Or tight end, where Logan Thomas is still recovering from knee injuries that will likely prevent him from being ready for Week 1 of the upcoming season. Or defensive line, which should absolutely be the strength of this team, but vastly underperformed a season ago.

And, of course, there are a few new faces at the game’s most important position — Carson Wentz comes to town via Indianapolis by way of Philadelphia, and Sam Howell, a rookie out of North Carolina. The hope locally is Wentz can provide stability for a franchise that hasn’t had a top-tier quarterback in … well … let’s not even go there. But that seems like a big ask for a guy with accuracy issues who finds himself on his third team in three seasons.

Regardless of how successful the Wentz era ultimately is, hope springs eternal for most fanbases during the dog days of summer. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite images from the opening week of the 2022 Washington Commanders training camp.

14Jun

Commanders once again plagued with dust-ups, distractions

Despite Ron Rivera’s best efforts, the Washington Commanders are simply unable to keep their heads down and let the work on the field speak for itself.

Hope springs eternal during the offseason. That holds true in our nation’s capital, as well as countless other cities with mediocre professional sports franchises. With a new name and several new faces, it’d be nice if fans of the burgundy and gold were able to focus on how quarterback Carson Wentz is settling in and/or which rookie is off to a fast start.

Alas, this fanbase can’t have nice things, so all attention is locked in on the handful of players who aren’t on the field for minicamp, including receiver Terry McLaurin (contract concerns), defensive lineman Daron Payne (in attendance, but skipping team drills over his contract) as well as tight end Logan Thomas and defensive end Chase Young (both are recovering from ACL injuries).

And then there’s defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was fined $100,000 just days before the start of minicamp for insensitive remarks regarding the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building and protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. His ill-advised comments were so tone deaf, it almost made folks long for the quieter days … when ownership was being called to testify on Capitol Hill for improprieties, etc.

So once again, rather than dedicating attention to receiver Curtis Samuel or linebacker Jamin Davis as both try to bounce back from disappointing inaugural campaigns in Washington, all eyes are on the latest off-the-field distraction.

25May

Hope springs eternal during Commanders’ OTAs

It’s not controversial to suggest that, in most NFL cities, hope springs eternal during the offseason. Whatever did or didn’t go your way last season is long forgotten as renewed hope and a few new players pave the way to only the most optimistic outlook for the upcoming campaign.

In related news, the Washington Commanders, led by newly anointed franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, took to the practice field for organized-team activities this week, giving those not employed by the franchise a first look at the North Dakota State product in action. And while much of the news cycle continues to focus on the players who weren’t in attendance, such as Terry McLaurin (contract holdout), Chase Young (recovering from injury) and Montez Sweat (excused absence), there was still an abundance of storylines worthing of time and attention.

Curtis Samuel’s first season in Washington was marred by injuries, so seeing him running routes and catching passes (albeit in shorts and without pads on) was a welcome sight. Antonio Gibson somehow looks both leaner and stronger heading into his third season, which an optimist could see as a positive sign as the talented running back looks to get a grasp on a fumbling problem that marred his sophomore season. And then there is obviously the infusion of new talent that arrived via the NFL Draft, such as wideout Jahan Dotson, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and tight end Cole Turner, each of which has an opportunity to play a central role for the burgundy and gold this year.

07May

Commanders hope three’s a magic number

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around the sport would agree that the NFL Draft is the closest thing to Christmas morning for professional football.

During this happiest of holiday offseasons, the Commanders went with a theme as they selected their newest additions. Washington’s 2022 rookie class features a third receiver (Penn State’s Jahan Dotson), a third defensive tackle (Alabama’s Phidarian Mathis), a third running back (Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr.), a third safety (Louisiana Lafayette’s Percy Butler) and a third quarterback (North Carolina’s Sam Howell).

Since the offseason began, Washington has gotten a new name for its franchise, the Commanders, and now Ron Rivera and friends have an infusion of talent to add to the mix of established veterans as they head into Year 3.

Rookie camp provides the coaching staff and talent evaluators their first chance to see the youngsters in burgundy and gold. While little can be taken away from kids running through a few drills in shorts in May, it’s still an exciting time for these young athletes who are just beginning to realize their dreams.

17Mar

Welcome to the Carson Wentz show

My first season covering the local professional football franchise was 2005. During that time, it’s safe to say Washington hasn’t had much in the way of stability at the NFL’s most important position. In fact, the list of quarterbacks who have started at least one game during the last 16 seasons is downright depressing: 

Mark Brunell. Patrick Ramsey. Jason Campbell. Todd Collins. Donovan McNabb. Rex Grossman. John Beck. Robert Griffin III. Kirk Cousins. Colt McCoy. Alex Smith. Josh Johnson. Mark Sanchez. Case Keenum. Dwayne Haskins. Kyle Allen. Taylor Heinicke. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Garrett Gilbert.

When the Commanders (that’s going to take a while to get used to) take the field this fall, they will do so with Carson Wentz behind center. That’s because, after missing out on Matthew Stafford last year and not being able to entice Russell Wilson to join the burgundy and gold, the Commanders struck a deal with the Indianapolis Colts to acquire the second-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The details:

Colts receive: 2022 second-round pick (No. 42), 2022 third-round pick (No. 73), conditional 2023 third-round pick
Washington receives: QB Carson Wentz, 2022 second-round pick (No. 47), 2022 seventh-round pick (No. 240)

Washington becomes Wentz’s third team in three seasons, which means he’s looking for some semblance of stability as well. Historically, he’s known for a strong arm while struggling, at times, with accuracy and decision making. Will this marriage of convenience between Carson and the Commanders stand the test of time? Or will both be on the rebound once again in the not-too-distant future? For better or for worse, we’re about to find out.

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