Four Storylines to Watch During Washington Commanders OTAs

Four storylines to watch during Washington Commanders OTAs originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The wait is finally over.

Organized Team Activities (OTAs) begin for Washington this week, marking the first time new quarterback Carson Wentz, first-rounder Jahan Dotson and every new addition all get to practice together as Commanders.

Here are four storylines to watch for during Commanders OTAs...

How does Carson Wentz look?

This week won't mark Wentz's first time throwing with his new teammates, as Washington's new quarterback has been in the building since the team's offseason program began in mid-April. The official team social accounts have even posted pictures of Wentz tossing the ball to his new pass-catchers, too.

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However, this week will be the first time true on-field workouts happen since Wentz joined the squad. Although it's only OTAs -- with players sporting just helmets, t-shirts and shorts -- this week marks Wentz's first real chance to impress his new coaches and teammates. 

Wentz is set to begin his third straight season with a new franchise. Pressure is on the 29-year-old to prove his NFL worth as a franchise quarterback. OTAs start that process as Wentz's tenure in Washington begins.

How will Terry McLaurin's expected absence impact OTAs?

The Commanders have seen their wide receiver group cycle through dozens of players over the past three years. However, whether it's game days in the fall or OTA/minicamp practices in the spring, there's been one constant during that span: the presence of Terry McLaurin.

That's why it's worth monitoring the vibe in Ashburn this week, as Washington's standout wide receiver is not expected to participate in on-field drills as he seeks a new long-term contract. Previous reports have suggested McLaurin will be present for the other aspects of the offseason program -- meetings, weightlifting sessions, etc -- but his true involvement is yet to be determined.

Washington's brass has remained adamant the team plans to sign McLaurin long term. Ron Rivera said during April's draft that the two sides have "started that process" working towards a multi-year deal. But until pen meets paper and the ink has dried on the dotted line, conversations only mean so much.

Although McLaurin's expected absence certainly hurts the wideout's ability to form a connection with Wentz, it will also give Washington's new QB the chance to throw to his other weapons more often. First-round pick Jahan Dotson should receive multiple reps with Wentz throughout OTAs. Curtis Samuel, who signed a lucrative three-year deal with Washington in 2021, is healthy after an injury-plagued first season in Washington. Any reps that Wentz gets throwing to Dotson and Samuel should be considered productive ones, especially with McLaurin not out there.

And for McLaurin, don't panic about his absence as it relates to on-field matters. The 26-year-old has been productive each season of his career despite playing with a laundry list of mediocre at-best quarterbacks. When McLaurin does return to the field, whenever that might be, Wentz and the wideout room will gladly welcome him back.

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How much do Chase Young, Logan Thomas and the rest of Washington's injured players participate -- if at all?

In 2021, safety Landon Collins' progress returning from a torn Achilles was Washington's main concern on the injury front during OTAs. Collins did not participate in 11-on-11 drills but was out there stretching, running and going through some activities. He was later fully cleared for training camp.

This year, there are two key contributors who won't be full participants in OTAs, Chase Young and Logan Thomas, who are both recovering from ACL tears. However, how much Young and Thomas participate -- if at all -- is worth monitoring. 

During a pre-draft press conference last month, Rivera said the team was not going to put a timeline on Young's return but was pleased with the pass rusher's progress in rehab. Young has gone on the record to say he plans to return for Week 1 and has been working out with the team during the early portion of the offseason program.

For Thomas, the tight end said in an interview with the Sports Junkies in mid-April that he was at the "jogging stage" of his recovery. Like Young, he also hopes to return for Week 1, which is roughly three-and-a-half months away. Thomas had surgery last December -- ACL recovery can take anywhere from 6-to-12 months -- so it's hard to imagine he participates much during OTAs, if at all. 

With Young and Thomas expected to be sidelined for most drills, it bears watching who takes the first-team reps at their respective positions. At pass rusher, James Smith-Williams seems to be the obvious choice, but Efe Obada, Casey Toohill, Shaka Toney and William Bradley-King could all compete for snaps. At tight end, second-year pro John Bates figures to be the starter, but fifth-round pick Cole Turner -- a converted wideout who shined during rookie minicamp -- could compete for snaps, too. 

One other name worth mentioning in this section is Samuel. The wide receiver played in just five games for Washington in 2021 due to nagging groin and hamstring injuries, but is healthy now and has been participating in the Commanders' offseason program thus far.

Over the past few weeks, both Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner have expressed their excitement about getting Samuel back on the field. With the 2021 campaign a lost one for Samuel, the sixth-year wideout is certainly eager to show what he's capable of.

What do linebacker and the Buffalo Nickel role look like?

Entering the offseason, linebacker figured to be the position Washington looked to upgrade most outside of quarterback. However, free agency and the NFL Draft have both come and gone. The Commanders remained quiet on that front.

As of now, the plan is for Cole Holcomb to man the 'Mike' linebacker position. It's a big role in Jack Del Rio's defense, as the Mike is responsible for relaying the playcall to the rest of the unit. But Rivera, Del Rio and general manager Martin Mayhew have each expressed their confidence in Holcomb that he's the right man for the job. Holcomb believes so, too.

Moving Holcomb to the inside allows 2021 first-rounder Jamin Davis to play on the outside, a position Washington's coaching staff feels is best for his skill set. But outside of Holcomb and Davis, who the rest of the linebacker unit shakes out remains a mystery.

Washington's defense rarely played in base formation last season, as Del Rio often deployed five members of the secondary on the field at once. That was largely due to Collins' emergence at the "Buffalo Nickel" role, where he played as a hybrid safety-linebacker who lined up close to the line of scrimmage.

With Collins no longer with the team, Washington must either fill that Buffalo Nickel role or play more base defense. As of now, what the plan is there remains unclear. The team has multiple candidates to play the Buffalo Nickel role, but none figure to be as well suited for it as Collins. At linebacker, depth is scarce behind Holcomb and Davis, so reverting to base defense more often doesn't seem like a bright move, either. 

With questions at both linebacker and in the secondary, seeing how Del Rio's defense lines up during OTAs is certainly worth keeping an eye on, even if many changes will likely occur before the season begins in September.

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