Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio in agreement on LB play

Ron Rivera agrees with Jack Del Rio’s comments from Thursday but remains positive and excited about Jamin Davis.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera may have surprised some of the media Friday, but he made himself absolutely clear.

Rivera was asked if he saw defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s comments Thursday concerning Commanders’ linebacker Jamin Davis. In addition, he was asked if those comments “were necessary to get some better play out of Jamin?”

Though the two sharply disagreed earlier this year resulting in Del Rio being fined, in this instance, Rivera made it clear from the outset that he and Del Rio are on the same page regarding the play of the second-year linebacker out of Kentucky. Shouldn’t they be? They both were NFL linebackers, linebacker coaches, defensive coordinators and head coaches.

“Well, I think we know that Jack’s honest and it’s an honest assessment. You know, the guy (Davis) did have a really good training camp. He played very well and we would like to see him play better. I don’t disagree with it. Jamin played hard. He gave a great effort, but let’s play smarter. Let’s understand that we gotta use our techniques. I talked about it. We put him in a tough position, but we think he can do it. Now, use the technique and make that guy go up and around. Don’t lose your leverage. Those are the things that I think Jack was a little frustrated with because he had a good camp and he did play well.”

Rivera was then asked regarding Davis’ struggles against Jacksonville in Week 1.

“Going up against somebody a little bit different, some things that you anticipate certain things happening, but something else happens. Well, then you’ve gotta react and fall back to your techniques and he didn’t. But that tells us that we’ve gotta continue to work with him and continue to put him in positions where he can have success.”

Rivera spoke of sometimes inexperienced players can inadvertently have the game’s excitement result in their missing their techniques. “The excitement of the game. The way things happen, and it’s gonna happen. And it’s a thing where you just continue to rep it, continue to work it and continue to develop your craft and your skill.”

“I think that (the technique) was probably the biggest thing. If you sit there and you watch him, he backs up a little bit, opens up the underneath and the guy takes it. Now, if he pops his feet, stays active, plants that inside leg, and forces him up over the top, that’s exactly what we’re hoping to get out of that situation. It’s just, those are little detail things that you’ve gotta continue to develop and grow as a player. And at that point, that would’ve been a good opportunity to show the growth that we’re looking for and expecting from him.”

Rivera likened Davis to one of linebackers in Carolina years ago.
“We had a player in Carolina, [LB] Thomas Davis, who arguably could be a Hall of Famer, but you look at the beginning of his career and he made a lot of mistakes. There were a lot of things that he had to learn and grow through, and fight through the injuries that he had. But, you see the same thing when you watch Jamin, you see the little detail things that he doesn’t quite get right now. But as he continues to work at it, and continues to grow and continues to develop, his skill set is gonna translate because the young man has good quickness, he’s got good speed and he’s got good natural strength. It’s just a matter of time.”

Rivera also was clear that he and Del Rio expect more from Davis now in his second year.

“The expectations are higher. You know what I’m saying? And those are our expectations. So, our expectations shouldn’t be higher than his. He should be wanting to be perfect every time. We just wanna make sure he understands and again, I have no issue with what Jack said, because again first of all, it’s just his honest assessment. Secondly, I agree with him. I agree that the young man had a good camp and I thought he played well in the preseason. I expect him to go out and do those things. Again, if it’s a base fundamental thing, issue like that, like it was, let’s get those corrected, don’t repeat the mistakes.”

 

 

Commanders waiver claims: The one time they struck gold

Washington has struck gold with waivers before. Could it happen again with either of the new cornerbacks?

What benefit will the Commanders receive from claiming two cornerbacks off of waivers last week?

Yes, the reality is both Rachad Wildgoose and Tariq Castro-Fields were not valued as the top 53 players on their respective teams. Consequently, Wildgoose was let go by the Jets and Castro-Fields by the 49ers.

Did you notice head coach Ron Rivera looked to GM Martin Mayhew while admitting, “I think he’s (Wildgoose) a second-year player from the Jets,” and Mayhew confirmed that was correct.

It illustrates the league has too many players out there for a head coach to know everyone available. This is why you hire scouts and rely on Mayhew and Marty Hurney. One man cannot do it all, nor should he attempt to.

Mayhew himself was a good corner in the NFL with Washington (1989-92) and Tampa Bay (1993-96). You don’t last in the NFL eight seasons (starting the vast majority of your games) unless you know much about the position and are a great athlete.

Mayhew spoke highly of Washington’s new corners. After all, would anyone else in the organization know as much about what it takes to play corner as Mayhew?

Most of the time you claim a player off waivers, and he reminds you why he was on waivers. But then there are times the guy was maturing and blossomed when provided another opportunity.

Such was the case when Washington drafted an offensive tackle in the 11th round (272 overall). It didn’t work out, he went to Kansas City, but they waived him a month later.

The next season the Cowboys claimed him, but he didn’t impress enough there either and was waived during the preseason. The very next day Washington claimed him off waivers, hoping it would work for him the second time around. 28 days later, they again waived him.

Thinking he could play, they tried again a third season. He broke through, making the roster, even starting 7 games. His fourth season he started every game, playing well enough he started at right tackle for 12 consecutive seasons.

When he retired he had played in 156 games (all for Washington) starting 146. He had become good enough to be the starting right tackle for 6 Redskins playoff teams, 2 Super Bowl teams and 1 Super Bowl championship team.

He deservedly became an original member of “The Hogs,” and the Washington football organization does not regret having claimed George Starke off of waivers.

 

Commanders Casey Toohill trying to do his job

Casey Toohill took advantage of his opportunities last season.

Next man up, Casey Toohill.

With Chase Young and Montez Sweat being limited to starting 9 and 10 games respectively in 2021, Casey Toohill and James-Smith Williams were each suddenly called upon to start 6 games.

Toohill came to Washington one day after he was released by NFC rival Philadelphia in 2020.

“I remember my first practice just getting tossed around and being like, I really just need to make my practice better. I need to have better habits. I need to spend more time outside of the building and then things should be better from there.”

Some of the defensive players have chided the offensive players when getting the best of the scrimmaging. But Toohill has noticeably not always been vocal. “That’s just not my style. You know, I do every once and a while. I think if you ask guys, they will say I can definitely be loud every once and a while. But yeah, in practice I just try to focus, feed off the energy.”

2020 was the last season Carson Wentz was with the Eagles. Toohill and Wentz overlapped briefly, with Toohill being released October 13. “I was there four or five games and the summer, so yeah, I overlapped with him. Really enjoyed meeting him there. He was nice to be from day one. I was a seventh-round pick, he had no reason to be but he was always kind to me which I appreciated.”

Chase Young’s sudden and terrible 2021 injury was Toohill’s sudden opportunity to contribute on the defense. “You never ever want to see someone get hurt or hurt severely. So obviously I wasn’t happy that Chase got hurt. It was very unfortunate to see. He’s a great player and a great friend, so I hated to see that, but yeah it was an opportunity.”

Toohill is learning more of the intricacies of the NFL entering his third season.

“I just think every year that I’ve played it’s become more about the details…  I remember after my first season I was like, I have to get a lot bigger. I have to get a lot stronger. Then last year, it was the minute details of my job. Hand placement, footwork, certain little pass rush things, the very small things that I thought could make a big difference in the end.”

When Toohill first came to Washington in 2020, one of his teammates was veteran Ryan Kerrigan, in his last season with Washington. Now this season, Kerrigan is a part-time coach, shadowing the coaches, and helping at times with the players.

“It’s been awesome. You know, it’s funny because I got here when he was still here, and I remember he introduced himself to me and I was like man I know who you are. I watched your film in high school class. That was awesome then. So helpful then.  I love working with him. He’s got a great mind set and it’s been a great pleasure.”

Next up for Washington is the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. In defeating the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, the Ravens extended the NFL’s consecutive record streak of preseason wins to 22. But Toohill knows what is important and what is not.

“I mean, you always want to win. That’s always the goal. But that doesn’t really change our focus. We want to go out there. We want to execute better. We want to play hard. Do our job, so that’s the focus.”

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Commanders special teams coach Nate Kaczor always looking for willing players

Nate Kaczor offered excellent insight into some of his special-teams decisions on Thursday.

Being an NFL special teams coach is not an easy task.

Nate Kaczor appeared before the media Thursday as Washington prepares to travel to Kansas City for a 4 p.m. ET Saturday game at Arrowhead Stadium.

One of the obstacles for Kaczor is the NFL now schedules one less preseason game, thus an entire game of reps is completely lost for players trying to make the team through their performance on special teams. It also means the units might be less prepared for the regular season.

“It’s well noted that we’ve got some players that hadn’t been on special teams reps the day we had pads on because we’re running outta opportunities to have padded reps. The last thing you want for a player that maybe hasn’t been a core special teams’ player, the first padded rep they get is against Jacksonville (Week 1).”

Kaczor was pleased with some aspects of the return units last week against Carolina:

” Dax (Milne) had a nice 12-yard punt return that was just taken advantage of a really good punt, but we had a good blocking on that left side, and he snuck down the left sideline. So probably better blocking on part return then kickoff return in that first game.”

When asked about the team moving on from Troy Apke, Kaczor was clear, he provides input, but all personnel decisions are made by Coach Rivera and management. “Troy is a player that has played good for us, but we just felt like at this time that there were players competing for that spot. Like I said, I’d defer to coach on answering that question, but we appreciate what Troy has done.”

Who might take Apke’s role on coverage teams this season?

“The guys that aren’t starting in those subpackages (Nickel and Buffalo), any of those down below that line that can run fast would be gunner candidates. Right now, two of the young ones we’re looking at that have not been around on defense would be Christian Holmes and Percy Butler.”

Regarding Antonio Gibson seen working in some special team units, “I’ll emphasize this because I don’t think a lot of people realize this, people may see Antonio practicing special teams and go ‘oh, you know, the offensive running back race.’ He’s approaching it as a professional as, ‘I need to get ready just in case I’m playing’ and professionals want to be prepared. That’s an impressive part of Antonio, he has approached this with a great professional attitude realizing, ‘I don’t want my first special teams rep on punt to be against the Jaguars in the regular season opener.’ So whether he’s out there or not, he wants to be prepared and that’s admirable.

One of the challenges for Kaczor is being given players for his units who are frustrated or down because they are not position starters. “A lot of times as a special teams coach, I might be dealing with a player who’s dealing with some disappointment on a role change on offense or defense. Sometimes when they walk in my office they’ve been told by an offensive or defensive coach that maybe the other guys going to start. So I’m not dealing all the time with guys that are just all excited to be talking to me and it’s for our job to get them excited about embracing that role.”

The former center at Utah State was asked about competition for punt returner. “Anyone that you see at practice catching punts is competing for that role. We tell the players all the time ‘preparation and execution over and over and over develops confidence.’ You’ll see the guys that did it in the first preseason game, they will all be available to do it against Kansas City.”

Watching Antonio Gibson return some kicks has seized Kaczor’s attention. “Those big returners that have speed, just like when they run the ball on offense, they’re harder to tackle. And he’s got a really good one-cut move that you see when he runs the wide zone for us on offense. But that’s the first thing that jumps out is the combination of the size. We all know he can run.”

Kaczor replied to more questions, but space does not permit for the entirety of his responses. However, here is the entire video.

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Commanders thin at multiple positions for second preseason game

Ron Rivera discussed Antonio Gibson at length on Thursday. He also talked quarterbacks.

Ron Rivera is already understandably concerned about injuries to his team.

Speaking with the media Thursday, the Commanders third-year head coach spoke of being very thin at tight end, center and guard. But the preseason rolls forward, so Rivera knows he has to put a team on the field Saturday against the Chiefs in Kansas City (4 p.m. ET kickoff).

Rivera even mentioned he might need to play offensive linemen at tight end and report in eligible.

Perhaps the biggest personnel story this week has been Antonio Gibson. So when asked if Gibson might play special teams Saturday, Rivera responded, “This one thing you guys need to understand is that once we get into the regular season, everybody is involved in special teams. AG did it last year. So for the most part, you know, this is nothing new. It’s just, you guys see it. So now it becomes a news story.”

When asked how many reps starters will take against the Chiefs, Rivera was clear, “I really don’t know. A lot of it has to do with the health of specific players. When we do certain things on the offensive side, it’s going to impact how all the other guys play.”

Rivera understandably is already thinking how much he should risk starting quarterback Carson Wentz in a preseason game. But with Washington being thin at center and guard, he was asked if that might affect how much Wentz plays. “Absolutely. That’s exactly what I’m getting at.”

Along with Gibson, rookie Jahan Dotson has also been getting returner reps this week. Might he be returning some Saturday? “It’s something to think about. We know who he is. We know what he is capable of, but at the same time, we want to make sure he’s comfortable back there. So we’ll see how it unfolds come game time.”

Rivera attempted to convey clearly to the media that some starters have to be ready to play special teams during the regular season when pressed.
“Well, it’s about need more than there’s anything else. We get into game situations, and something happens; if they’ve gotten no reps at it and you got to put ’em in there, you’ve kind of screwed yourself. So as I alluded to earlier, that’s one things that’ll happen. You guys won’t see when we get into the regular season, a lot of our veteran players, a lot of our starting players will have backup roles in specific special teams.”

The former Carolina Panthers head coach (2011-19) was asked why number three QB Sam Howell was getting some reps against the starting defense. “Just to see how he handles it, you know, does he step up to the plate? And that’s what you want to see. You want to see a guy take it to another level.  It’s one of those things that if you never throw ’em in there, you never find out.”

RB J.D. McKissic missed practice Thursday. Rivera stated, “J.D. has had a little tightness in his groin, so we just want be careful, you know. We’ve got 48 hours before we play, and we don’t want to expose him.” Rivera also expressed that offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr had an excused day, Thursday.

Some concern has been raised regarding how Gibson might be responding to adversity. “I think he’s been fine. I think he’s worked on some things individually. He’s taken his reps the way I think you should take them and he’s continued to do that. And the biggest thing more so than anything else is, and I’ve said it to you guys, this is more than a one-back league. I mean, you’ve got to have guys that have specific skill sets, all three of our top three backs, all have a different skill set and, you know, that’s the important thing for how you’re going to use them.”

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Ron Rivera likes the Commanders depth at defensive end

Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio like Washington’s defensive end depth.

The Washington Commanders arguably have the NFL’s most talented defensive line. Defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat, combined with defensive tackles Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Phidarian Mathis, give Washington an outstanding tor group.

However, with Young still recovering from knee surgery, there were concerns about Washington’s youthful depth at defensive end this offseason. It led the Commanders to sign veteran Efe Obada to serve in a backup role for 2022.

But what about some of Washington’s young pass rushers?

Head coach Ron Rivera spoke to the media Wednesday and offered high praise for some of the Commanders’ young pass rushers.

“[William] Bradley King has done a really nice job,” Rivera said of the second-year defensive end. “He’s a heavy-handed guy that’s physical.”

Bradley-King has been consistent throughout training camp and flashed multiple times in last week’s preseason opener. Rivera also praised Bunmi Rotimi and Shaka Toney. Toney, along with Bradley-King, were fellow seventh-round picks in 2021.

“You look at Shaka [Toney], Shaka is a situation pass-rusher type,” Rivera said. “Very explosive off the ball. We saw that in the game. He was getting around the corner and dipping stuff like that. So, we got a mix of young guys.”

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio also spoke on some of Washington’s defensive ends, naming James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill.

“I think James Smith-Williams is the first guy that comes to my mind,” Del Rio said. “He is running with the ones. I think he is a guy that is rugged. He has played a little bit inside and has moved outside full-time. He is doing a great job with it. Really happy with him.”

We know Young is out for at least Week 1. Perhaps he will miss a few games. Washington certainly isn’t going to rush his return. So the extra reps for players like Smith-Williams, Toohill, Bradley-King and Toney are critical in the preseason.

It’s clear that Commanders’ coaches believe in some of the young players and Obada, regardless of how long they must wait on Young. That’s something the Commanders were less confident about one year ago.

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Commanders Bobby McCain conveys the point of emphasis

Bobby McCain talks Washington’s improved communication in the secondary.

Commanders safety Bobby McCain visited with the press Wednesday, and he was certainly preaching better communication.

McCain relayed communication has certainly been coached“It’s just the point of emphasis we made from the start of camp. As long as we are all on the same page, not too many people can beat us athletically. So understanding that it’s got to be all across the back end. Everybody’s got to communicate.”

When asked how that is different from 2021, the seven-year veteran responded, “Teams lose more games than they win in this league and that one thing starts with communication, especially in the back seven, because if you’re not on the same page, you have no chance.”

The former Miami Dolphin believes Kansas City will be a good test, Saturday. “It’ll definitely be good for us. We know what kind of offensive firepower they have. So having a good strong defensive stand will be nice.”

A fifth-round draft choice (145) in 2015, McCain is impressed with some of the younger players developing in the secondary. “One thing I see out of Percy (Butler) and I told him from the first day, you’ll be in this league a long time, as long as you don’t make the same mistakes twice. And he really hasn’t made the same mistake twice. He’s playing a lot faster. The game’s slowing down to him, and he’s understanding the defense really well.”

The former Memphis Tiger believes the Commanders are having a good training camp and will need to “Build off of it and start fast. Understand that just because you’re out here and it’s happening out here, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen every Sunday. ”

With the poor performance in 2021, especially on third downs, he stated, “We try to let you guys worry about that, and we just got to worry about going out, playing football…We’ve been talking about it all OTAs all ever since last year. Really just making sure because situational football is all that wins games in this league.”

McCain is seeing second-year safety Darrick Forrest progress as well. “He is so much smarter. You can see the jump, you can see the year-two jump. He’s out there communicating with me and Kam (Curl). He understands, he knows where he needs to fit. He knows his role and he’s been a good ball player, but now you can see he’s playing really fast.”

Asked a second time about third-down defense, “It’s the most important down in football, to be honest with you. Because it’s going to get you off the field and it’s going to keep the guys fresh.”

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Commanders Jack Del Rio mindful and precise with media

Jack Del Rio spoke only about football on Wednesday.

Jack Del Rio did not take the bait.

Washington’s defensive coordinator was fined $100,000 by head coach Ron Rivera in June. When he met with the media Wednesday, the very first question he was asked was what he learned from the fine. Del Rio calmly replied, “Happy to be in camp right now. The team is doing a great job working on preparing for the season. Everything that I like to talk about should have to do with football and playing good defense.”

When John Keim inquired what all went into Del Rio’s departure from tweeting on Twitter, Jack simply responded, “Personal decision.”

A third question came; even offering it was unfair he was fined. But Del Rio was laser-focused, responding, “I have nothing to add.”

One reporter clearly not listening well, repeated a question Del Rio had earlier more than satisfactorily answered. He calmly responded, “I touched on that a little before.” Which Del Rio certainly had. But for the record, Del Rio did go ahead and offer some more of an answer in kindness to the reporter.

Some members of the media probably interpreted Del Rio as stingy with answers Wednesday. Yet, on the other side of the coin, in his first statement, he made it clear he was only going to talk football, and yet he was asked twice more about the events this past June.

Del Rio even was conscientious not to provide his opinion of Coach Rivera’s firing of defensive line coach Sam Mills III or the promotion of Jeff Zgonina. “I’d have to defer to coach (Rivera) on any reasoning. I think he spelled that out with you guys. I have nothing to add.”

When asked a second time about Rivera’s decision, Del Rio again was judicious. “Like I said, anything you want to talk about in terms of that, I just defer to coach.”

Now Del Rio was more than happy to compliment Zgonina’s coaching, “Jeff is doing a good job. He’s a guy that played 17 years in the league. I like that. I think he brings some intensity. I like that. I think the guys respond well to him and his teaching. I think he brings intensity on the way he coaches the guys. I think there is connectivity. It is important to be able to connect with the guys and I think he does that. Thus far, a short, small sample but I have been happy with the way it has worked out.”

Del Rio did compliment some of his players’ performances thus far in preseason. “I think James Smith-Williams is the first guy that comes to my mind. He is running with the ones. I think he is a guy that is rugged. He is doing a great job with it. Really happy with him. I think Casey Toohill has developed. I think Efe (Obada) is developing. Those guys are giving us some presence on the edge, and of course, Montez Sweat is leading the way with that group.”

“I think Jamin (Davis) is playing with more certainty and more confidence. He understands where he belongs. Talent wise with his abilities, he’s locked in, and mentally he really understands where he belongs. He is having a strong camp for us, and we are going to need him to play well for us.”

“Cole (Holcomb) is really asserting himself in a leadership role. I think he is doing a great job mentoring some of the other linebackers, asserting himself in the huddle, taking charge and making the call, being really strong with it. I think his preparation is very strong. I’m happy with the way he has approached it.”

Del Rio did provide much more, but space does not permit here. Here is the full video.

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WATCH: Carson Wentz connects with Jahan Dotson on beautiful throw and catch

Carson Wentz and Jahan Dotson hook up for a big play during Wednesday’s practice.

We know Washington quarterback Carson Wentz has a big-time arm. The knock on Wentz is accuracy.

During Wednesday’s training camp practice, Wentz’s strong arm was on full display, along with his accuracy, when he connected with rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson on a beautiful bomb in practice.

Check it out.

That play is one of the many reasons Washington’s coaching staff believes Wentz is a sizeable upgrade under center for the Commanders. Far too often in recent seasons, Washington’s offense didn’t have a deep passing game due to quarterback play.

That all changes with Wentz. And, in Dotson, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown, the Commanders have the weapons to take advantage of Wentz’s arm strength.

If nothing else, Washington’s offense should be fun to watch in 2022.

 

Washington’s OC with high praise for Wentz: ‘Carson has been outstanding’

Scott Turner has high praise for quarterback Carson Wentz.

There are a lot of narratives surrounding Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz. Team captains Terry McLaurin and Jonathan Allen have already questioned those narratives. Now, Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner is the latest to heap praise on Wentz.

After Tuesday’s practice, Turner spoke with the media, and the first question he received was about his quarterback.

Carson has been outstanding,” Turner said of Wentz. “He’s an outstanding communicator. We’ve had great back and forth. It’s important to him; obviously, football’s important to him. Just going back, starting even in the offseason, he dove right in to learn our offense and learn what we do. Got to know his teammates.”

There was a lot of criticism aimed at Wentz over the first two weeks of training camp, with many questioning his accuracy during practice. According to Commanders team president Jason Wright, one reporter took it too far with his line of questioning. However, Wentz has handled every situation with class, something Wright alluded to in a tweet defending his quarterback.

Wentz made his Washington debut Saturday against the Carolina Panthers, completing 10 of 13 passes for 74 yards. Wentz didn’t have any highlight-reel plays — good or bad. And for Washington coaches, that was precisely what they wanted to see.

Turner believes the best is yet to come for Wentz and Washington’s offense.

“Every day, you can see that comfort level of his increasing,” Turner said. “I’ve been really pleased with that. And the work he’s done with his teammates, getting to know them, just getting a feel for how they play the guys he’s throwing the ball to. I just feel like he’s getting comfortable, and in turn, we’re getting better.”

The Commanders are back in action Saturday when they travel to Kansas City to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Washington will be looking for continued growth from Wentz in his second start.

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