- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2022

ASHBURN — If the final preseason game of the year presented one last opportunity for players on the bubble to play their way onto the roster, as the cliche goes, then maybe the opposite of that is true as well. 

That, at least, would explain why the Commanders kept only four cornerbacks on their initial 53-man roster Tuesday. In a game full of backups days earlier, the Ravens carved up Washington’s secondary, with quarterbacks like Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown connecting on various deep shots. All summer, depth on the back end appeared to be an issue. 

But speaking to reporters after the cuts were finalized, coach Ron Rivera would only say that the Commanders are “not done” when it comes to the cornerback position. After four corners in Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III, Benjamin St-Juste and rookie Christian Holmes, the coach indicated that more roster moves could be coming soon.

“I’ll just leave it at that,” Rivera said. 

The Commanders unveiled their 53-man roster Tuesday, with a few genuine surprises. The first was that rookie Brian Robinson Jr. — days after being shot in an armed robbery attempt — wasn’t placed on any sort of injured list and remained one of the four running backs chosen for the roster. The other was that Washington kept 27 offensive players to 23 on defense — an untraditional split that arguably reflects just how the team’s brass viewed their depth.

The most glaring changes were made at cornerback. The team released DeJuan Neal, Corn Elder and Danny Johnson, the latter of whom played 336 snaps last season and had been with Washington since 2018. Elder, too, was a veteran who played with Rivera in Carolina and spent last season with Washington. Both appeared to be the team’s primary backups with the second unit, besides Holmes

Around the league, most teams keep five to six corners. As Rivera alluded to, Washington, in all likelihood, will get to that number in the coming days. After all, last year, the Commanders had only four linebackers on their opening 53-man roster but re-signed veteran David Mayo to add a fifth player at the position in time for Week 1. 

Teams commonly tweak their rosters after waiver claims are made and other players are placed on injured reserve. This year, the Commanders hold the 11th spot on the waiver wire — meaning they’ll get their choice of a player eligible to be claimed as long as the 10 teams in front of them don’t also put in a bid. 

Elsewhere, the Commanders’ other notable moves included keeping five linebackers and five tight ends. At linebacker, Washington elected to keep former undrafted free agents Milo Eifler and De’Jon Harris over 2020 fifth-rounder Khaleke Hudson.

Rivera said Eifler, in particular, had a “really, really strong camp,” noting his speed stood out at the position. 

“Milo just earned that spot,” Rivera said. “He did some really good things on special teams. He’s a guy that once you get to a chance to watch him, and watch him on tape, you see him progress.” 

As for why Washington kept 27 players on offense, Rivera said Robinson’s situation factored into the decision. Washington, for example, ended up keeping four running backs with Robinson sidelined, tapping veteran Jonathan Williams over fan-favorite Jaret Patterson. The team held o to Williams over Patterson, Rivera said, because his style was closer to Robinson’s physical rushing attack. 

Rivera declined to say whether Robinson would stay on the active roster, or move over to the non-football-injury list — which would require him to miss a minimum of four games. Robinson met with the team’s doctors Tuesday after being discharged from the hospital. “We are looking for a timeline,” Rivera said regarding Robinson’s possible return. 

Injuries were also a factor at tight end. Starter Logan Thomas is recovering from a torn ACL, while John Bates (calf) and rookie Cole Turner (half) missed significant time in camp. That helped undrafted free agents Armani Rogers and Curtis Hodges make the roster, though Hodges is also banged up at the moment. 

Now, Washington’s brass will spend the next day or two evaluating what other possible players to add. But the most notable cuts around the league appeared to be at positions in which Washington is already set. 

The Las Vegas Raiders, for instance, cut tackle Alex Leatherwood just a year after drafting him 17th overall. The Minnesota Vikings also moved on from quarterback Kellen Mond, a third-round selection last year. As for notable veterans who got released, the Kansas City Chiefs cut wide receiver Josh Gordon and the Houston Texas waived running back Marlon Mack.

“If you’re going to replace a guy, that guy better be ready to be plugged and played,” Rivera said. “It’s not just about, ‘Oh he’s a tremendous talent, but are they doing the things that you’re doing? Are they running the same style of running plays? Are they running the same style defense?’

“Sometimes you may get excited about someone and all of a sudden that’s not a fit. You have to be careful and be smart about it because you may be letting a guy go that fits you better.”

Here’s a look at Washington’s 53-man roster:
Quarterback (3): Carson Wentz, Taylor Heinicke, Sam Howell 
Running back (4): Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Brian Robinson, Jonathan Williams
Wide receiver (6): Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson, Cam Sims, Dyami Brown, Dax Milne                                                Tight ends (5): Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner, Armani Rogers, Curtis Hodges                                                                  Offensive line (9): Charles Leno, Andrew Norwell, Chase Roullier, Trai Turner, Sam Cosmi, Wes Schweitzer Cornelius Lucas, Saahdiq Charles, Chris Paul
Defensive line (9): Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, Phidarian Mathis, Efe Obada, Daniel Wise, Shaka Toney
Linebacker (5): Cole Holcomb, Jamin Davis, David Mayo, Milo Eifler, De’Jon Harris
Cornerback (4): Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III, Benjamin St-Juste, Christian Holmes
Safety (5): Kam Curl, Bobby McCain, Darrick Forrest, Percy Butler, Jeremy Reaves
Specialists (3): kicker Joey Slye, punter Tress Way, long snapper Camaron Cheeseman 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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