Commanders’ preseason opener: Glimpses of changes on defense, rookie RB


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The Washington Commanders lost 23-21 to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason opener, but on closer inspection, the game revealed a few notable developments, including a nascent defense plan, what a healthy Curtis Samuel could do for offense and a big change by offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

Scott Turner: New place, similar schedule

Despite having a new quarterback, many parts of Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner’s plan looked familiar. In three series with the first team, he used a fast playing speed and pre-snap movement to make some easy throws. Last season, Washington was among the leaders in both categories.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Turner was the location. The first two years as a coordinator, he called up plays from the booth. He called them from the sidelines on Saturday. After the game, when he left the locker room, Turner explained that he was making the switch “just for communication.”

Rivera complimented Turner and quarterback Carson Wentz for finding a good rhythm.

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“You can almost see Carson anticipating … the call, get right into the group and take command, spit it out, then go to the line,” Rivera said. “You know, we weren’t close to game delays, we ran out of game time and that told me we were having a really good day.”

Defensive personnel come into the picture

Despite two key players being injured — cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (hamstring) and defensive end Chase Young (ACL) — the first-team defense’s three heats hinted at how coaches plan to fill the two positions without locked-up starters. .

In the end, Washington used angle Danny Johnson for nickel, but if St-Juste is healthy, he will probably start over with Johnson. In the large nickel subpack, Kam Curl slid from safety to lock, and sophomore safety Darrick Forrest replaced him. Forrest appears to be ahead of rookie safety Percy Butler for the role.

“The only thing you like about Darrick is that he’s a high-impact guy,” Rivera said. “He’s running around. He runs into things. He is naturally physical and has tremendous athleticism.”

The ending that replaced Young opposite Montez Sweat was James Smith-Williams. The team seems to like Efe Obada and Casey Toohill as the second series ends.

A glimpse of the healthy Curtis Samuel

In his first preseason game, receiver Curtis Samuel had two catches for 14 yards — about half the total output from his injury plagued last season (six catches, 27 yards). But numbers belie Samuel’s true impact. Turner seemed to use him in motion more than any other receiver, perhaps trying to force the defense to explain Samuel’s versatility and explosiveness.

If Samuel can stay healthy — Rivera said the team continues to follow the plan to get him back in shape — he could become the elusive, meter after catch weapon that was missing last year. Turner alluded to it by calling a screen to him on the second play of the game.

“I saw it in the camp,” Wentz said. “I’ve seen… how explosive he is with the ball in his hands, so that’s good for him to come here, and it’s good for me to feel that and develop that chemistry in the game.”

Rookie running back shines

After top running back Antonio Gibson fumbled on the second drive, rookie Brian Robinson Jr. impressed with six carries for 26 yards and a touchdown. In one series, he demonstrated various skills — catching a screen, using vision to find a narrow hole, physically running in a close-range situation — and he looked just as good as the polished back that five years in Alabama. has spent.

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On the 1-yard touchdown run, Turner showed confidence in Robinson by moving two tight ends from side to side and then running to the left.

“Brian showed us why we drafted him, and that’s the downhill physical presence on the inside,” Rivera said. “He runs with a good lean. He moves the stack, one of those things to create energy and sets a tone for the offensive line. … I was pretty excited about what we got.”

Robinson said he didn’t expect to play this early, and that while he was ready to step in, he needed more reps to get used to the NFL.

“I still don’t feel comfortable,” he said after the game. “I still don’t feel like I’ve played enough to get the comfort I need to play in this position. But the series I was in gave me a good sense of what’s to come. The more I get game reps, the more comfortable I’ll get.”

Washington announced an attendance of 44,855, reflecting the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans going through the turnstiles.

This season, Washington hopes to recover from a terrible 2021, when it finished 31st in the NFL with an average home attendance of 52,751. The crowd seemed smaller on Saturday than announced numbers, but ahead of the game, team president Jason Wright praised the progress the corporate workforce has made, including the rebranding is ahead of schedule and ticket sales have increased largely as a result of the rebuilding. the base of subscribers.

“We feel like we’re in a really good place,” he said. “We have other teams calling us to find out what we’re doing, what’s right.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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