ASHBURN, Va. — While the Washington Commanders are still trying to figure out if quarterback Carson Wentz can bounce back from his back-to-back divorces with the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, the organization should feel quite confident in its defense through two days of training camp. On Thursday, Jack Del Rio’s unit dominated nearly every snap in team drills against Wentz and the offense.
Washington Commanders’ defense dominates Day 2
While the offense kept things simple during the first round of 11-on-11 work with a mix of short throws and handoffs, the group’s second set of team drills set the tone for the rest of the day, as Washington’s sticky back seven flustered and foiled the offense.
During a 9-on-9 session, Wentz threw six consecutive incompletions. Those failures weren’t solely on Wentz, as his targets and the defense shared in the fun (or lack thereof, for the offense at least).
The first throw hit the ground after a wide-open drop by tight end Cole Turner. On the next play, a suffocating defensive series left no one open and Wentz essentially threw to no one. On the third throw, Wentz tossed a laser to wideout Dyami Brown, but cornerback Kendall Fuller jumped on the ball and batted it in the air as linebacker Cole Holcomb plucked it for the first pick of practice.
On the fourth play, Wentz tried to connect with Turner near the sideline, but the ball was off the mark. Linebacker Jamin Davis tried to make a leaping interception but instead settled for a pass breakup to make sure the target couldn’t be miraculously hauled in. Then, tight end Sammis Reyes dropped a fine throw by Wentz, and Fuller locked down Brown on another target.
Fuller was the standout of the day on defense, as he was all over the field, and even broke up a screen pass behind the line. While Fuller might not be talked about among the upper echelon of cornerbacks in the league, he looked dynamic in practice, seemingly seeing the play before it happened. Overall, the secondary was lights out, showing a mix of speed and physicality that largely shut down the offense.
Carson Wentz still finding his footing
Based on the reports from Wednesday and the performance put on by Wentz on Thursday, it’s safe to say that the quarterback is still trying to find his rhythm with his third team in as many offseasons. Typically, during the early days of camp, the defense is ahead of the offense, because the unit is asked to do less. There are also fewer new pieces on the defense than on the offense.
That said, Wentz’s accuracy was all over the place. He threw high and behind targets and had trouble getting the ball out quickly at times. There were multiple coverage sacks, and while the defense played well, it’s fair to criticize the lack of effectiveness from the QB and his weapons, who are perceived to be upgraded with the addition of first-round pick Jahan Dotson (more on him later).
However, there’s obviously plenty of time for Wentz to catch up and find his groove.
Towards the end of practice, Wentz settled down a bit and made a pair of really nice plays back-to-back. He hit wideout Dax Milne on an out route for a 15-yard gain in tight coverage. He then came back and made the offensive play of the day, tossing the ball 30 yards with an effortless flick of the wrist to Dotson, who made the contested catch over cornerback Benjamin St-Juste.
Chemistry between Carson Wentz and Jahan Dotson has grown
Pro Football Network spoke with Dotson about the play following practice.
“Any chance I feel like the ball is in the air, I’ve got to go get it,” Dotson told PFN. “Carson gave me a chance, left in it inbounds, and I was able to go get it and make a play for the offense.”
While Wentz and Dotson weren’t able to connect regularly on Day 2, their relationship and chemistry has grown throughout the offseason, and Dotson says the veteran QB has mentored him throughout the summer.
“Carson has helped me tremendously,” Dotson said. “He’s been a great leader, someone I can look up to in the locker room, and someone I know I can go to when I need advice. He’s been helping me tremendously — starting in OTAs — just being around him and learning what he likes to do on the field, and just trying to be there when he needs me.”
Fellow wideout Marken Michel, who played with Wentz in Philadelphia in 2020, feels like the QB will be a good influence on all of the receivers in the Washington locker room.
“Honestly, I think he did a helluva job in Philly, leading us and making sure we were all on the same page,” Michel said. “Especially, the young guys and new guys that came in, he always stepped up and understood the playbook and knew exactly what we were doing, and he does the same here. Any time he gets a chance to step to the side and give somebody a pointer, he does that.”
Commanders’ injury updates
Centers Chase Roullier and Tyler Larsen, tight end Logan Thomas and pass rusher Chase Young remained on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list during practice. Offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas remained on the non-football injury list.
Along with those absences, projected starting right guard Trai Turner was also absent from practice, though the reasoning is unclear. Roullier and Turner will be in the starting lineup whenever they return, so the first-team offensive line looked a bit different on Thursday.
Starting tackles Charles Leno and Sam Cosmi were joined by starting left guard Andrew Norwell. The two other “starting” linemen were Wes Schweitzer at center and Saahdiq Charles at right guard.
Following practice, the Commanders activated Roullier from the PUP list. Roullier suffered a fractured left fibula in Week 8 of last season, and he’s likely to be eased into action over the next few days and weeks.
Once-promising prospect retires at 24
Wideout-turned-tight end Antonio Gandy-Golden was absent from the practice field on Thursday. While he did have a couple of nice plays on Day 1, he told Rivera prior to practice that he planned to retire and return to school, Liberty University, following two seasons with the team.
Gandy-Golden was a media-scout darling coming into the 2020 NFL Draft. He ended up dropping to the fourth round of that draft class. Washington selected him, but he only ended up playing in 10 games for the franchise, producing 25 total yards on two touches.
This offseason, the Commanders had moved the 6-foot-4, 223-pound receiver to tight end in hopes of revitalizing his career. That transition lasted just one training camp practice.
Rivera said he was surprised by the news but understood the decision.
“He just felt the time was now,” Rivera said. “He told me he was going back to school to continue his education, and then go from there. He’s a heck of a young man, he did a nice job for us, really do appreciate who he is and who he was for us as a football player. And because he is a bright young man, I do believe he has a bright future ahead of him and wish him all the best as he goes forward in his life.”
Young safeties shine in coverage
Two other standouts from Thursday’s session were safeties Jeremy Reaves and Percy Butler.
Reaves made an exceptional play during an early portion of team drills. Wideout Kelvin Harmon slipped past cornerback DeJuan Neal in coverage, and as the ball floated toward the open receiver, Reaves came from over top and knocked it down on a bang-bang play.
Butler, a fourth-round pick in April, also had a couple of highlights. He got scored a pass breakup on a deep pass from Wentz to wideout Cam Sims. In fairness to the offense, Butler was very “grabby” as Sims ran down the field. Butler then came back a few plays later with a near-interception, as he jumped a route on a throw from backup QB Taylor Heinicke.
- The practice ended after fourth-string QB Cole Kelley threw two interceptions in three plays. First, Kelley was picked off by defensive end William Bradley-King, who slipped into coverage, intercepted the pass, and ran it back for a score. The final of the day was cornerback Channing Stribling, recent signing from the USFL, collecting a pick on Kelley. Stribling, who played for the Philadelphia Stars in the spring league, led the USFL with seven interceptions on the season.
- Wideout Jequez Ezzard was the first Washington player on the field. Rookie QB Sam Howell was the first quarterback out of the tunnel for warmups.
- Cornerbacks DeJuan Neal, Josh Drayden, and Christian Holmes all made impressive pass breakups during team drills. Yes, it was that kind of day for the defense.
- Wideout Curtis Samuel had a nice play where he caught a short pass then shimmied and shook a defender to break free for a nice gain. Sure, it was a shirts-and-shorts practice with limited contact, but that was still a nice sight.
- Running back Reggie Bonnafon fumbled a handoff from Taylor Heinicke.
- Running back Brian Robinson Jr., a third-round pick, looks fluid despite running at a high padded level. At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, he’s a bigger back, but he has a lot of explosiveness in his one-cut style.
- The Pro Football Network training camp tour will continue on Friday with the Philadelphia Eagles at the NovaCare Complex.