It was an offseason 24 years in the making — an offseason of change. The Washington Commanders kick off a new era of football on Sunday with a new ownership group, a new starting quarterback and a new offensive coordinator.
“There’s been a buzz all offseason for this team,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said.
Head coach Ron Rivera enters his fourth season at the helm of this franchise, and even without new ownership, it would be a pivotal one for him.
Rivera has posted a 22-27-1 record in three years, but this could be the best roster assembled during his time in Washington. That being said, there’s something he has yet to do during his tenure — getting off to a fast start.
The Burgundy and Gold have started 2-6, 2-6, and 1-4 in Rivera’s three years. Players and coaches have repeatedly said getting early results is one of the main focuses heading into the new season.
With Josh Harris and the new ownership group evaluating everything this year, a slow start is something that Rivera cannot afford to have.
“I have a lot to prove,” Rivera said earlier this summer.
Knowing how important this season is, Rivera made some changes this offseason. He has turned to Eric Bieniemy and Sam Howell to lead this year’s offense. Howell enters with only one career start, and that was in Week 18 last year. Whereas Bieniemy comes from Kansas City, where he won a Super Bowl last season with head coach Andy Reid. This is the first time he has had a chance to put his stamp on an offense and call plays.
Bieniemy quickly restructured everything on the offensive side of the ball, including how Washington practices. His presence has been felt from day one of his hiring, and practices have been visibly more physical and intense this summer.
In addition to Sam Howell, the biggest question mark on this team will be the offensive line. Last year, the offensive line allowed 48 sacks. The team signed Andrew Wylie and Nick Gates this offseason, along with drafting two lineman. If that unit can improve, then this offense has big potential with weapons like wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel, tight end Logan Thomas and running back Brian Robinson Jr. running Bieniemy’s new offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has his unit in a good position entering his fourth season. Daron Payne signed a long-term contract this offseason after posting big numbers a year ago. Payne, along with Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Chase Young should be the team’s strongest position group. Sweat and Young are in contract years themselves. Washington also added to its veteran secondary by drafting Emmanuel Forbes, who has shown flashes in the preseason.
In the kicking game, Tress Way has proved to be one of the best punters in the league, while Joey Slye beat out Michael Badgley in the kicking competition.
The anticipation for the upcoming season is at a 20-year high, and it’s been building since the ownership sale was finalized. FedEx Field is sold out for Sunday’s opener, the first time that has happened in years. The Commanders will also host a season kickoff party at D.C.’s Franklin Park Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.
For the region and some Commanders players, the thought of an actual home-field advantage heading into the new NFL season is something to be fired up about.
“It’s really exciting to know we have a true sellout,” McLaurin said. “It’s exciting for us players to see that support.”
Allen, who grew up in the area, said he can feel the excitement as well.
“I’m excited to see what it’s like,” Allen said. “There’s an electric buzz going around the area.”
It all starts this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
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