- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2022

The next phase of the offseason is underway. The Washington Commanders will take the field Tuesday — giving coaches the chance to evaluate 11-on-11 play, albeit in a non-contact setting. For coach Ron Rivera, the practice provides a perfect opportunity for the Commanders to further develop their chemistry in order to be ready for the fall. 

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on this week when on-field workouts take place:

Carson’s command: Troy Aikman was blunt last week when asked about Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz. “This is probably his last opportunity … to prove that he can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL,” ESPN’s new “Monday Night Football” analyst said. 

Aikman is probably right: The Commanders are Wentz’s third team in the last three seasons. And so all eyes will be on just how Wentz performs, even in these limited practice sessions. Wentz is learning a new offense under coordinator Scott Turner, and so observers will get to see just how the quarterback handles the system. Washington is counting on Wentz to lift an offense that hasn’t ranked above average — or even average — since 2016, when Kirk Cousins was still wearing Burgundy and Gold. 

Terry watch: While Wentz may be the main focus, don’t forget about Terry McLaurin. ESPN reported earlier this offseason that McLaurin — seeking a new contract — isn’t expected to participate in any of the on-field activities for the Commanders. Rivera has said they’ve had discussions with McLaurin’s camp about an extension, but the longer this process drags out, the more attention it will receive. 

The wide receiver market has undergone a dramatic change, too. Stars Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown all received major paydays this offseason — but were traded first before signing a new deal. The deals set a potential threshold for Washington and McLaurin as all three receivers average $25 million per year. 

Samuel sighting: We already know that defensive end Chase Young and tight end Logan Thomas — recovering from ACL injuries — will still be rehabbing and won’t be available to practice this spring. But what about Curtis Samuel? The wideout played in only five games last year because of nagging injuries, though Rivera has expressed optimism that Samuel will still be able to be an impactful contributor next season. Samuel has posted videos working out at what appears to be full speed, so he does look to be on track. 

The main questions now become whether he can stay healthy — and what type of impact Samuel can actually create going against defenses. It will be interesting to see how much Washington uses Samuel on the outside compared to the slot, where he spent the majority of his time in 2020 during his last season with the Carolina Panthers. Turner has typically put Samuel on the outside, but the arrival of first-rounder Jahan Dotson gives the coordinator flexibility.

Davis role: Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew have spent a lot of time this offseason hyping up Cole Holcomb as an option at middle linebacker. But what about Jamin Davis? Washington’s 2021 first-rounder will likely be used as an outside linebacker this upcoming season, but the team’s coaching staff needs to see more consistency from the 23-year-old. 

In the 16 games he appeared in last year, Davis played over 65% of the defense’s snaps on just four occasions. By comparison, Holcomb crossed that mark in every game he appeared in (also 16). That’s not ideal as Washington drafted Davis 19th overall and had big expectations for him. 

Combinations galore: Washington was relatively quiet in free agency, but some spots will look markedly different when the Commanders start to practice again. The offensive line, for instance, will have two new starters — and it will be fascinating to see how much the team experiments with the lineup. Rivera could go with former Panthers Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner — two guards who were signed — or he could mix and match by using Norwell at left guard and veteran Wes Schweitzer at right guard. The Commanders have options, despite losing Ereck Flowers and Brandon Scherff. 

The secondary is also another place that could see rotating parts. Fourth-round safety Percy Butler figures to slot into Landon Collins’ spot as the buffalo nickel after Collins was released in March. Beyond that, 2021 third-round cornerback Benjamin St-Juste is an intriguing x-factor. The Commanders found a rhythm with William Jackson III, Kendall Fuller and Danny Johnson after St-Juste’s injuries, but the rookie cornerback individually played well before getting hurt.  St-Juste missed the last six games and eight total with head injuries.

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

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