ASHBURN, Va. -- The biggest eyebrow-raiser of the 12th day of Commanders camp came before practice started. Speaking to the media, head coach Ron Rivera addressed . It's no secret things feel at little bit different at this training camp.
Bieniemy is the loudest voice, always. You'll often hear him yelling at receivers to "find work" (find someone to block) after a teammate catches a pass and urging anyone carrying the ball to "finish!" by running downfield, even after the defense has pulled up. He'll interrupt huddles to get the offense in the right place or, simply, moving with more urgency. On Tuesday, he told the second-team offense: "Too many mistakes! We're better than that!" He's demanding. He's intense.
He's also, simply, trying to make his unit -- with major question marks at quarterback and offensive line -- better, and he has just a few weeks left to do it.
"I expect the effort to be a standard that's accepted by all of us," Bieniemy said Tuesday. "So, when you're not reaching that, it's my job to address it. So, sometimes they may like the highlights and the praise, but sometimes they may not like it and I'm perfectly fine with that, because that's my job. Because if I ain't doing my job, my ass gets fired. So, it's my job and my responsibility to make sure and I'm getting our guys to do what I expect them to do."
Bieniemy finished his press conference by saying that when his players put their teammates' success ahead of their own "we have f------ chance. Excuse my language. Y'all see I'm getting fired up."
Running back Antonio Gibson certainly doesn't mind Bieniemy's approach.
"I feel like you need that as players sometimes," Gibson said Tuesday. "Sometimes some people can come off a little soft or more caring but sometimes you need somebody to get into you and it just helps you. That shows they really care and at the same time it's like 'Let me get this done' so he ain't yelling at me."
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Gibson also noted he feels like he's in the best shape he's been in a long time thanks to the up-tempo practice style.
Tuesday was the Commanders' penultimate practice before their preseason opener against the Browns on Friday. Here's what stood out on the field:
Sam Howell solid all-around
- Howell had a few really good moments in the first 11-on-11 session, including a sprint out to his left and then a throw back across the grain to an open Terry McLaurin, who made a nice catch on a ball slightly behind him.
- Howell also connected on a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass to McLaurin down the sideline for a big gain. McLaurin had Christian Holmes beat by just a half-step, so it required a near-perfect pass, and Howell delivered. He has shown some good arm strength and touch on balls down the sideline to both wide receivers and running backs.
- Howell was more up-and-down in the deep red-zone drills but completed a nice pass to Jahan Dotson in the end zone after the pass protection held up well.
- In the final 11-on-11 drill, Howell had a good ball to the outside to tight end Cole Turner, who tapped both feet in for an impressive catch. Those two also linked up a couple of routes on seven-on-seven.
It can be hard to evaluate Howell fully because the offensive line has had its struggles. The team is working in starters at four different positions: Chris Paul/Saahdiq Charles at left guard, Nick Gates at center, Sam Cosmi at right guard and Andrew Wylie at right tackle. Plus, the Commanders boast one of the league's best defensive lines and a very good secondary, too. Overall, Howell has shown some flashes, but there are a lot of passing plays that get bogged down quickly due to the battles in the trenches.
"Sam is doing a good job," Bieniemy said. "Sam's actually doing a hell of a job. I think sometimes early in camp you could see where he was overthinking. But we've been putting a lot on our players, been putting a lot on his plate because I want him to understand there's a thing that you got to do. You got to process everything and the thing that I love -- I've seen the growth. You can see when he's confident, he's coming off the mound releasing that ball. It's a thing of beauty. It's been fun watching this growth process and I think the sky can be the limit for this kid."
Defense: Montez Sweat stars
- With Chase Young hoping to return to peak form after a major knee injury and Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne both coming off Pro Bowl seasons, Montez Sweat can sometimes be overlooked -- or at least not talked about as much. But the 2019 first-rounder has times where he's absolutely dominant, including in 11-on-11 where he registered back-to-back would-be run stops on Brian Robinson and Dyami Brown and followed that up with a would-be sack/tackle for loss on an RPO. Sweat also won a lot of his one-on-one rush work with moves both outside and inside.
- Danny Johnson had a pair of pass breakups, one in seven-on-seven and one in 11-on-11. He's been a steady backup for Washington for the past half-decade and just seems to always do his job. He's battling for a roster spot once again, and plays like those help.
- The defensive line depth is impressive. After the starters, Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams are steady veterans on the outside, John Ridgeway and Phidarian Mathis created good push up the middle on a couple of occasions, and Efe Obada could be a rotational piece as well. Young edges K.J. Henry (who had a would-be sack of Howell in goal-line work), William Bradley-King and Andre Jones Jr. (who had a pressure in third-team reps) are likely competing for a couple of spots at most.
- The Commanders were once again without tight end Logan Thomas (calf), making it four consecutive practices without their top tight end. Turner, John Bates and Curtis Hodges got more work with the first- and second-team units. Hodges had a couple of drops and got a lot of extra JUGS machine work after practice.
- Cornerback Troy Apke and defensive tackle Curtis Brooks went on IR, and safety Joshua Kalu and punter Colby Wadman took their places on the 90-man roster. Wadman will punt Friday against the Browns as Tress Way deals with a tight back. Rivera did not anticipate Way missing much time and even said Way would hold against Cleveland.
- Saahdiq Charles' calf injury opened the door for Chris Paul to get first-team reps at left guard, and Paul stayed there in team drills Tuesday.
Odds and ends
- Rivera said he has not determined how much the starters (or any group) will play Friday. He'll have those discussions with the staff Tuesday night.
- Aaron Monteiro had a few good one-on-one reps. Unofficially listed as a second-string guard, Monteiro could push for a roster spot; the Commanders' interior offensive line depth is uncertain at best.
- Diminutive and dynamic returner/wide receiver Kazmeir Allen closed the practice out with what appeared to be three consecutive touchdown catches while working with the third-team offense, headed by Jake Fromm. Allen will need strong preseason performances to make a roster push, but sequences like that certainly don't hurt.