Commanders’ preseason opener: Notices of changes on defense, rookie RB – The Washington Post

Commanders' preseason opener: Notices of changes on defense, rookie RB - The Washington Post

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

Here are five takeaways from the game:

Scott Turner: New point, similar scheme

Despite having a new quarterback, many parts of offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme looked familiar. In three series with the first team, he used high rates of play action and pre-snap motion to create some easy throws. Last season, Washington was among the league leaders in both categories.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Turner was location. During the first two years as coordinator, he called plays from the booth. On Saturday, he called them from the sidelines. After the game, coming out of the locker room, Turner explained that he made 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 anticipate … the call, go right into the huddle and really just take it, spit it and then get to the line,” Rivera said. “You know, we weren’t close to delaying games, we didn’t run out the game clock and that told me we had a really good day.”

Defensive personnel coming into focus

Despite two key players sitting out with injuries — cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (hamstring) and defensive end Chase Young (ACL) — the three series of first-team defense suggested how coaches plan to fill the two positions without locked-in starters.

In the slot, Washington used corner Danny Johnson at nickel, although when St-Juste is healthy, he will likely start Johnson again. In the big nickel subpackage, Kam Curl slid from safety to slot and second-year safety Darrick Forrest replaced him. Forrest appears to have the edge on rookie safety Percy Butler for the role.

“The one thing you like about Darrick is he’s a very efficient guy,” Rivera said. “He runs around. He encounters things. He’s physical by nature, and he has tremendous athleticism.”

The end that replaced Young against Montez Sweat was James Smith-Williams. The team seems to like Efe Obada and Casey Toohill as the second set of tight ends.

A glimpse of a healthy Curtis Samuel

In his first preseason game, quarterback Curtis Samuel had two catches for 14 yards — about half of his 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 account for Samuel’s versatility and explosiveness.

If Samuel can stay healthy — Rivera said the team is still following the plan to get him back in shape — then he could become the elusive weapon the offense lacked last year. Turner alluded to it by calling a screen on him on the second play of the game.

“I saw it in camp,” Wentz said. “I’ve seen … how explosive he is with the ball in his hands, so it’s good for him to come out here, and it’s good for me to feel that and start developing 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 showed multiple skills — catching a screen, using vision to find a tight hole, running physically on a short-yardage situation — and looked every bit the polished back who spent five years at Alabama.

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

“Brian showed us why we drafted him, and that’s the down-to-earth, physical presence inside,” Rivera said. “He runs with a good slant. He moves the crowd, 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 as early as he did, and that while he was ready to step in, he would need more reps to feel acclimated 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 at this position. But the series I was in gave me a good sense of what was to come. The more I keep getting game reps, the more comfortable I’ll get.”

Washington reported an attendance of 44,855, which reflects the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans who went through the turnstiles.

This season, Washington hopes to recover from its terrible 2021, when it finished 31st in the NFL with an average home attendance of 52,751. The crowd appeared smaller than the announced figure on Saturday, but before the game, team president Jason Wright spoke highly of the progress the commercial staff has made, including that the rebrand is ahead of schedule and that ticket sales are up largely due to the rebuilding of the season ticket base.

“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, which is good.”

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