Commanders focused on goals, not expectations, as 2022 training camp starts

Commanders focused on goals, not expectations, as camp starts originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. — Coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons, it’s no secret the Washington Commanders expect to take a step forward in 2022.

Head coach Ron Rivera has gone on the record this offseason expressing that belief. His team in Carolina dramatically improved during his third year as head coach, which he’s now entering in Washington this fall. The Commanders traded for quarterback Carson Wentz in March, a move that should solidify Washington at the sport’s most important position — one the Burgundy and Gold have cycled through dozens of players at over the past couple of decades.

Yet on Tuesday, the eve of Commanders training camp, Rivera was asked if it was fair to view the 2022 season as playoffs-or-bust. He declined.

“It’s fair to say we expect to win and we’ll leave it at that,” Rivera said.

As for why?

“I think the biggest thing, more so than anything else, is why put pressure on ourselves? Why don’t we just leave it at winning? And we’ll go from there,” he said.

From just those two answers, Rivera’s mindset entering the 2022 campaign is clear. He expects to win and his players do, too. But the entire organization has opted to take a goal-oriented approach, rather than placing expectations on themselves and chasing after them.

Jonathan Allen, a team captain and the unofficial leader of the Commanders defense, is on the same page as his head coach.

“We all know what we’re working for. We’re not going to act like we don’t think about it,” Allen said. “We understand that the goal is to win the division and move on through the playoffs. But before you can get to that goal, you got to work on what’s ahead of you. We understand we got to take it day by day. … You don’t get to your goals by focusing on your goal every day. You get to your goals by every day you take another step for it. You continue to grind and focus on the task at hand.”

Star wideout Terry McLaurin echoed a very similar sentiment as Allen.

“Having a team meeting yesterday, it was clear for everybody that we want to win as many games as possible,” McLaurin told NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay. “… That’s what we all wake up every day for — from the support staff to the players to the coaches — you come here to get into the playoffs and have a chance to win the Super Bowl. I don’t think we shy away from that.

“But I think [Rivera] just wants to make sure that we take it with a Day 1 approach, understand that attention to detail it’s going to take to get there, the mindset from everybody to do their job and not anyone else’s, and control what we can control is really going to help us hopefully get to those goals and reach that destination in the end.”

One year ago, the Commanders had high expectations. Washington was coming off an unlikely NFC East title in 2020 behind a defense that finished top five in almost every major statistical category. Discussions about being the best defense in the league in 2021 were real. Pass rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young openly talked about hoping to break the NFL’s combined sack record.

But after a disappointing 2021 campaign, the Commanders made significant changes this past offseason. The franchise traded for Carson Wentz with the goal of solidifying the quarterback position for years to come. One month later, the Commanders filled multiple needs in the draft, highlighted by the selection of receiver Jahan Dotson 16th overall. The entire draft class is full of high-floor prospects that Rivera and his staff hope can contribute immediately.

Wentz, who’s now quarterbacking his third franchise in as many seasons, has bought into Rivera’s goal-oriented mindset as well.

“You all have goals, you have goals, high expectations. You have a lot of that, but then you come out here and it’s like, ‘Okay, how do I get better today?'” Wentz said. “You have these long-term goals, but then you can’t look too much at the future or look too much ahead because you gotta do what’s required of you at that moment, within each play, within each practice, within each day. So I try not to think too big-picture like that because you can overlook some things that are right in front of you. I think most guys have that same kind of mindset of just every day, let’s get a little bit better.”

For all 32 NFL teams, the beginning of training camp is typically filled with optimism. Regular season games are still weeks away. The joy of winning has yet to be experienced, but losses also have not begun to pile up. It’s a lot easier to look at things through a positive lens when that’s the case.

The first day of training camp feeling is not new for Rivera. The Commanders’ boss played in the NFL for nine years and has been a coach in the league, in some capacity, for the past 25 seasons. Rivera is determined to prevent that excitement from getting in the way of his evaluation process ahead of his critical third season at the helm.

“Everybody comes in with a good feeling, all that stuff,” Rivera said. “But for us, we’ve gotta make sure it’s about the evaluation process and we gotta continue to look at what we have and build on it.”

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