Week 1 of the preseason is in the books. The Washington Commanders defeated the Cleveland Browns 17-15 in the opener and face the Baltimore Ravens next Monday night.
While the score wasn’t important in the preseason opener, several individual performances were. Young quarterback Sam Howell played three series, leading the Commanders on an 80-yard drive on his final series that ended with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson. It was a strong performance from the starting quarterback.
What other players were impressive Friday? Which players helped solidify their roster position?
After each preseason game, we’ll do our best to project Washington’s initial 53-man roster. Here’s our first crack at it after Week 1 of the preseason.
Quarterbacks: Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett.
This is too easy. Howell gets the starting nod, and the Commanders have an experienced backup in Brissett. Jake Fromm can be re-signed to the practice squad allowing Washington to use the roster spot on another position, such as wide receiver or defensive end.
Running back: 3
Running back: Brian Robinson Jr., Antonio Gibson and Chris Rodriguez Jr.
Another easy one. The only question here is will the Commanders keep four backs? It’s doubtful. Washington can trust any of these backs to carry the load if there’s an injury. Additionally, the Commanders can keep an extra back on the practice squad.
Wide receiver: 7
Wide receiver: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Byron Pringle, Dax Milne and Kazmeir Allen.
Some tough calls here. Will Washington keep seven receivers? It’s difficult to say. Four spots are locked in. Pringle was a good signing ahead of training camp. Milne has experience, and the coaches like and trust him. That leaves Allen, Marcus Kemp and Mitchell Tinsley fighting for one spot. Allen was impressive as a returner on Friday. This should be an interesting battle over the next couple of weeks.
Tight end: 4
Tight end: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates and Kaden Smith.
If this were two weeks ago, we would’ve gone with three players here. However, you can’t continue to dismiss Logan Thomas’ injury. He’s missed too much time. Perhaps the Commanders are playing it safe with Thomas. He’s still 32 and has battled injuries recently. The recently-signed Smith provides veteran insurance behind Turner and Bates.
Offensive line: 10
Offensive line: Charles Leno Jr., Saahdiq Charles, Nick Gates, Sam Cosmi, Andrew Wylie, Cornelius Lucas, Tyler Larsen, Ricky Stromberg, Chris Paul and Braeden Daniels.
This is the position where I have the most doubts. Putting Lucas on the roster with Larsen, Stromberg and Paul would mean there is only true backup tackle. Lucas is excellent as a backup, but teams generally carry another player who can play tackle. In this exercise, we keep fourth-round pick Braeden Daniels. He’s struggled at tackle this summer. However, I just don’t see Ron Rivera parting with a rookie fourth-round pick. Daniels could be a good NFL player in the future, but probably at guard. The good news is Charles and Cosmi have experience at tackle if needed.
Defensive line: 10
Defensive line: Montez Sweat, Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, John Ridgeway, Efe Obada, Phidarian Mathis, Casey Toohill, James Smith-Williams and K.J. Henry.
Another tough call here. Washington is loaded at defensive end and tackle. Obada can play inside or outside in a reserve role. He proved to be valuable last season. Toohill, Smith-Williams and Ridgeway are excellent backups, while Mathis is looking to make his mark after missing last season.
This leaves the final spot down to a pair of draft picks: K.J. Henry (5th round) and Andre Jones (7th round). While you’d like to keep both, it doesn’t seem possible. You can probably sneak one to the practice squad, but it’s not a guarantee. Jones has quietly been impressive all summer. He’s probably been more impressive than Henry thus far — and Henry hasn’t been bad. The Commanders would go with the higher draft pick in this instance.
Linebacker: Jamin Davis, Cody Barton, Khaleke Hudson and David Mayo.
Four seems low here, but remember, Washington plays a lot of nickel. The Commanders also play five defensive linemen at once. They don’t view linebackers the way others do. Also, they have the Buffalo nickel position, which is a hybrid, and safeties Kamren Curl, Darrick Forrest and Percy Butler can also play there. Rookie DB Quan Martin could fill in there, too.
The Commanders like their four linebackers here. Hudson is an ace backup who can also start, while Mayo has plenty of starting experience calling the defense. If there are no injuries, I can see Washington keeping four here.
Cornerback: Kendall Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste, Emmanuel Forbes, Quan Martin, Danny Johnson and Christian Holmes.
Solid group here. Excellent depth all around. Holmes has impressed at cornerback this summer, and he’s terrific on special teams. Johnson thrived in his role on defense last season. Martin can play all over the secondary, while Fuller, St-Juste and Forbes are the top three.
Safety: Kamren Curl, Darrick Forrest, Percy Butler and Jeremy Reaves.
This is a loaded group. All four players could start, and Martin could play safety, too. Curl and Forrest are the starters, Reaves has started plenty over the years and Butler is on the verge of a breakout season.
Specialists: K Joey Slye, P Tress Way and LS Camaron Cheeseman.
Same group as last season. Slye has faced competition this summer, but he’s been better than Michael Badgely. The Commanders always liked Slye but wanted to push him.