ASHBURN — Sam Howell has spent most of the offseason in Charlotte, but when the Washington Commanders quarterback found out that Eric Bieniemy was hired as the team’s new offensive coordinator, the 22-year-old made sure to drive to the area so he could attend Bieniemy’s introductory press conference.
Howell said Thursday he was excited about the hire. And making an early first impression doesn’t hurt, either.
One of the seemingly odd twists in Bieniemy’s jump to Washington is that the former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator left Patrick Mahomes — a two-time MVP and regarded as the best quarterback in the NFL — for a situation in which the largely unknown Howell is poised to become the Commanders’ starting signal-caller next fall.
Some perspective: Mahomes has won more Super Bowls (2) than Howell has played games (1).
“The kid is a dynamic football player,” Bieniemy said. “He can make throws from different platforms.”
He was talking about Howell.
“You can tell he has a baseball background,” Bieniemy continued — again not referring to the player whose dad (Pat Mahomes) literally played in MLB. “The thing that got me fired up is when he ran for that touchdown (against the Dallas Cowboys), he flexed. So that was some good stuff.”
Over the Commanders’ month-long search to find a new offensive coordinator, coach Ron Rivera informed candidates for the position that Howell, a 2022 fifth-round draft pick from North Carolina, would be the team’s likely starter in 2023. Howell earned that position in part because of a strong Week 18 finale in which he helped the Commanders upset the Cowboys.
Taking on the development of an NFL longshot hasn’t phased Bieniemy, who did his research on Howell by calling people he knew at North Carolina. They gave “high reviews” of the quarterback, Bieniemy said.
Howell’s starting job, though, comes with a caveat. The second-year player must win the starter’s position through OTAs and training camp, with Washington expected to add competition to the roster. Asked if he prefers adding a veteran signal-caller or a rookie, Bieniemy said the Commanders were still evaluating.
But that’s fine by Howell. Speaking to reporters, Howell said he was grateful for the opportunity and added “the work starts now.” He said that being named the likely starter helps him go into the offseason with added confidence.
“I’m a big fan of his,” Howell said of Bieniemy, “Just listening to him talk here, I’m super impressed with the man he is. And obviously, he comes from a team that’s had a lot of success, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“I’m just super excited to learn all that stuff and just get started with it.”
With the Chiefs, Bieniemy served as offensive coordinator for an offense that routinely ranked as one of the league’s best. While Bieniemy wasn’t Kansas City’s primary play-caller — a role that belonged to coach Andy Reid — Rivera said he thinks that the West Coast style scheme that Bieniemy brings can be beneficial for Howell.
Specifically, the West Coast offense is rooted in short, quick-timed throws — an area of Howell’s game that Rivera felt shined against Dallas. The coach pointed to Howell’s completions to wide receiver Jahan Dotson on slant routes.
“Sam’s got a quick release,” Rivera said. “He makes quick decisions.”
So, what does Howell think of Bieniemy going from Mahomes to himself?
The North Carolina native took a diplomatic approach.
“They had a lot of success together, so hopefully we can kind of bring some of that over here,” Howell said. “But I don’t get too caught up in comparisons. I just try to do the best I can and be the best player I can be.”