The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinion of the team.
The Washington Football Team will kick off OTAs on May 25, and there are plenty of reasons for people to start getting excited for the 2021 iteration of the roster.
Head coach Ron Rivera has been working on slowly improving the team over the past 15 months by injecting the foundations with his vision for a sustainable, winning culture. So far, that effort has been going well; after all, it’s hard to argue with drafting Chase Young, who went on to become the Defensive Rookie of the Year, doubling the team’s win total and winning the NFC East for the first time since 2015.
The next step is for Washington to sustain and improve upon that success. There are no trophies given out for offseason acquisitions, but there is also no denying the team has brought in more talent through free agency, led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a strong draft class that includes first-round pick Jamin Davis.
As Rivera said last week, OTAs and rookie minicamps are not about playing “smashmouth” football. There will be a time and place for that, but for now the focus is on improving technique and understanding the team’s philosophies. Still, it will be exciting to see the majority of Washington’s players on the field together, so here are three storylines to watch over the next month of the team’s offseason workout program.
1. More dynamic players at receiver
There are no shortage of positions that might look a little different by the start of the season, and perhaps “exhibit A” for that is at wide receiver.
Washington was looking for more speed and experience at the position this offseason, and it has certainly found both over the past two months, starting with the signing of Curtis Samuel in free agency. The former Ohio State speedster was used to great effect as part of Rivera’s Carolina Panthers, but last season he took another step with career-highs as a pass-catcher (851 yards) and a rusher (200 yards).
“My mindset each and every play is the more plays I make, the more the team is going to want to give me the ball,” Samuel said in March. “I approach each and every play like it’s the last. My job is to go out there and make plays for the team. I want to win games.”
Not long after signing Samuel, Washington made the move to bring in six-year pro Adam Humphries, who also happened to be one of Fitzpatrick’s favorite targets when he was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 2018 season — his final season with the Buccaneers — was by far his best with 816 yards and five touchdowns with a catch rate of 72.4%.
Washington wants to be more explosive downfield in 2021, and that is what it hopes third-round pick Dyami Brown will allow it to do with his ability to make contested receptions, which was better than almost everyone’s in college football last season. The duo of Brown and Samuel adds to Washington’s arsenal of players who run a 4.4 or faster 40-yard dash, including the team’s No. 1 receiver and 4.3, Terry McLaurin.
Those players, along with Steven Sims Jr., Isaiah Wright, Cam Sims, seventh-round pick Dax Milne and several others make for a crowded position group. Players will have to make their case for a roster spot over the next few months, but that competition is exactly what Rivera loves to see.
“We wanted to get a complement from Terry [McLaurin], and I think we went out and got a few complements to Terry,” Rivera said. “I think that group can be very dynamic for us, so I am excited about that.”
2. New faces on the offensive line
Washington is a long way from locking in who the starting five offensive linemen will be, but there will be some new, and technically old faces vying for some of those spots.
Ironically, one of Washington’s first moves was to bring back a player it lost in free agency last season. It traded a seventh-round pick in exchange for Ereck Flowers, who signed a deal with the Miami Dolphins in 2020. Flowers made the switch from left tackle to left guard when he signed a one-year deal with Washington in 2019 and wound up having his best statistical season, according to Pro Football Focus, and allowed a career-low two sacks. Four days later, Washington bolstered the offensive line again, this time by taking Texas left tackle Sam Cosmi with its second-round pick. Cosmi is known for his strength and physicality — he led the Longhorns with 28 knockdown blocks — and Rivera intends to “put him at left tackle and see how he does.”
But Cosmi will not be the only new addition at tackle; the team signed seven-year pro Charles Leno Jr., who had previously spent all of his career with the Chicago Bears. Leno has started the last 93 consecutive games and earned a Pro Bowl vote in 2018, when he recorded his second-best pass-blocking season with a PFF grade of 79.2.
While there will not be any competition for starting roles in the near future, all three of previously mentioned players and returning veterans will have the chance to work on their technique and develop their skillsets. They’ll also be able to build up their chemistry, which will be vital if they want to work together as a unit on gameday.
3. A chance to learn from Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick is expected to be Washington’s starting quarterback when Week 1 kicks off against the Los Angeles Chargers, but Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke will be given the opportunity to take the role for themselves. With that being said, Allen and Heinicke have combined to start 19 games in their career, and the next few months offer a rare opportunity to learn from one of the oldest active players in the NFL.
When it comes to experience, Fitzpatrick has basically done it all over the course of 16 seasons. He’s had 13 comebacks, 18 game-winning drives and is the only quarterback to throw a touchdown for eight different teams. Aside from being known for taking bold chances on the field, he is notorious for being an avid mentor for younger players. He was most-recently able to do that with the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, who the team took fifth overall in 2020.
Since Washington will be focusing mostly on technique until training camp begins, it will be an ideal opportunity for Allen and Heinicke to watch how Fitzpatrick handles himself on the field and learn how to be as prepared for the season as possible.