- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2022

ASHBURN — The day before the Washington Commanders’ first training camp practice, Ron Rivera met with Carson Wentz to once again tell his new quarterback that he’s wanted in the District. The coach had delivered the message plenty of times before, but Rivera wanted to reiterate the sentiment, considering the trials the two will face together over the journey of the next few months. 

Both understand that, for this year at least, their success depends on one another.

When Wentz took the field Wednesday, Rivera said he saw a “hyper” passer who had a firm command of the huddle, more confidence in his ability to sling it downfield and a building rapport with teammates. 

That last point, in particular, is noteworthy as Wentz comes to the Commanders with a reputation that he lacks leadership skills. In Indianapolis, owner Jim Irsay has said he felt the Colts didn’t have chemistry and the quarterback “wasn’t the right fit” in Wentz’s lone year as their starter last season.

Wentz and Rivera have tried to downplay the second-guessing that seems to follow the quarterback. But in the seventh year of his career, and at his third stop in the last three, the signal-caller seems to grasp the importance of having to connect with those around him. 

Weeks before training camp, Wentz hosted a group of the team’s playmakers in Huntington Beach, California, to work out and provide a chance to bond over the course of three days. Quarterbacks organizing unofficial workouts is standard for the NFL, but Wentz, who paid for everyone’s hotel and travel arrangements, said the get-together was invaluable. He told reporters he picked up on plenty of his teammates’ hobbies and interests, like a shared love of golf with star-wideout Terry McLaurin. Rookie Jahan Dotson, he said, “doesn’t do anything” but play video games.

 “I definitely learned that one,” Wentz laughed.

The goal is for those connections to translate to the field.

“You try not to do anything out of the ordinary,” Wentz said. “You just let those relationships naturally build.  … I’m a little older, a little different perspective and (this is a) relatively younger team, younger locker room. And so just how do you build relationships? It looks different every year. Every locker room looks different, but you just have to be intentional and build that chemistry and that relationship in time. 

“And it’s a lot of good dudes in there and it’s been fun getting to know them.”

Rivera noticed the chemistry improving right away Wednesday. Wentz launched a deep ball to McLaurin that was off the mark. At first, Rivera said he thought the adjustment was because of a Wentz mistake — that he underthrew the ball. But when McLaurin got back to the huddle, Rivera heard the wide receiver admit that he broke out of his route too early. 

For Rivera, it was encouraging to see the duo’s dynamic at a place in which McLaurin felt comfortable enough to approach his quarterback to get on the same page. 

“You see that they’re developing that type of rapport that’s going to be helpful for each other,” Rivera said. “For us, for that matter.” 

Wentz, too, said he can tell quickly if he’s going to have a strong connection with a target. Past stats have shown Wentz has a tendency to favor one primary receiver. Last year, Michael Pittman led the Colts with 129 targets, while Zach Pascal ranked second with just 69. But early in camp, the quarterback told reporters he focuses on finding that timing across the board.  

The timing remains a work in progress. Rivera likely described Wentz as “hyper” because the veteran was, at times, erratic with throws. Defenses generally have an edge on offenses early in camp, and that especially appeared to be the case for a team getting used to a new starter under center.

But Wentz appears to be making an impression. Recalling the trip to California, Dotson said “it was pretty cool” to spend the time together. They went to dinners, and the first-rounder admitted to trying foods new to him like calamari. 

“I’m not a big seafood guy,” Dotson said, “but it wasn’t too bad. I’d maybe try it again.”

Dinners and workouts, of course, won’t automatically repair Wentz’s reputation around the league. The 29-year-old, who can be cut at no cost after this year if things go south, comes to Washington as a polarizing figure with much to prove. 

“What he does on a day-to-day basis will tell me everything I need to know about him,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “He came in, he worked, he involved himself with the team, and he’s exactly what we want from a quarterback. So I have no questions. … He’s given me no reason to doubt him at all.”

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

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