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Five takeaways from the Commanders’ joint practice with the Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If there was hope that tempers had cooled and the Washington Commanders and Baltimore Ravens would get through a full practice without a fight, it was short-lived.

At least three skirmishes broke out in the first hour of their joint practice Wednesday, most of which were between Washington’s offensive line and Baltimore’s defensive line during one-on-one sessions. The workout also offered a mixed bag of team periods, some at less than full speed, and individual drills that gave the Commanders a closer glimpse at their improvement and the areas in which they need work before training camp ends.

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s practice:

Coach Ron Rivera declined to name Sam Howell the starting quarterback for Week 1 — but he doesn’t need to. Howell took all the first-team reps again Wednesday and has for almost all of training camp. The team’s plan is obvious, no matter Rivera’s comments.

Also obvious: Washington’s starting offense is improving but still has areas of concern, some of which were magnified Wednesday against the Ravens. Howell held his own for much of the day, but the final 11-on-11 period was a tough go for the offense.

“There’s a couple of pressures that [the Ravens] got us on, which they were just kind of things that we didn’t really game-plan for,” Howell said.

Breaking down the first day of joint practice with the Ravens

Both teams were cognizant of what they put on display, and after the fights during one-on-ones, they shifted to a team period that did not include full-speed rushing from Baltimore’s defensive line. Instead, the emphasis was on coverage and route concepts — and decision-making.

“One of the things that we were hoping [for] when we got out here and the stuff was pretty close to real [was] to see how he handled it,” Rivera said of Howell. “And he handled it well, and he made some real good decisions.”

Rivera said he plans to meet with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard on Thursday to review film and evaluate the status of Howell and Jacoby Brissett. Asked whether he wants a formal declaration that he is the starter, Howell said it matters little to him.

“I’m confident in my abilities, and I know I can go out there and play well and be successful and give my team a chance to win,” he said.

Commanders really need Thomas

Logan Thomas has been sidelined since Aug. 4 with a calf strain, and though his absence has afforded younger tight ends additional reps, it has also shown his value to the offense. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Thomas is built like a power forward but plays with the physicality of a linebacker.

Cole Turner has shown growth year over year in training camp, but in Washington’s two practices against the Ravens, he had at least a few balls stripped, and he dropped others. Two practices alone are hardly a gauge of a player’s future, but Thomas’s value was obvious in his absence; his strength as he makes a catch is unmatched among Washington’s tight ends.

John Bates impressed Wednesday with a couple of leaping grabs. Drafted in 2021 primarily for his blocking, Bates has had to adapt to Bieniemy’s offense, which heavily features tight ends in the passing game.

“I thought he’s been blocking extremely well, and then as a guy coming out late after chipping or blocking, he presents a really nice target,” Rivera said. “He made a couple of big catches today that really kind of showed the kind of check-down he can be for the quarterbacks.”

Position battles coming into focus

Some of the toughest roster battles are heating up. In the absence of Chase Young, Efe Obada again took most of the first-team reps at defensive end, though the team also worked in Andre Jones Jr. The seventh-round pick from Louisiana Lafayette has impressed with his speed and length and could earn a role at end.

Five ends (Obada, Jones, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and fifth-round draft pick KJ Henry) appear to be competing for three or four spots.

On the offensive line, Chris Paul and Saahdiq Charles are battling at left guard, and two centers, veteran Tyler Larsen and third-round draft pick Ricky Stromberg, are competing for backup guard/center. The situation favors Stromberg, who is younger, but the coaching staff likes Larsen, too.

The Commanders’ O-line has a ‘razor-thin’ margin for error

For depth wide receiver/returner, undrafted rookie Kazmeir Allen appears to be ahead of third-year wide receiver Dax Milne. Allen took every punt return rep Wednesday as Milne stood on the sideline holding his helmet. But the battle is a question about what the coaches value more: explosive return potential (Allen) or blocking, route-running and steady hands (Milne)?

Defense stands tall in two-minute drill

Late in practice, the Ravens started at their 25-yard line with 1:20 on the clock, two timeouts and the scoreboard showing 14-14. Washington used its dime sub-package with four linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs. Safety Kam Curl appeared to shadow tight end Mark Andrews, which, in crunchtime, was a busy assignment.

On the first play, quarterback Lamar Jackson threw to Andrews up the seam. Curl knocked the ball away. Two plays later, Andrews got a step on Curl on a shallow crossing route for a modest gain. On the next play, the Commanders looked to be in zone coverage; when Andrews ran an intermediate, out-breaking route, Curl fell off coverage of Andrews and stepped into a zone over the middle. Jackson saw the hole open up and hit Andrews for a big gain.

Baltimore used its final timeout with 27 seconds left. It was third and five from Washington’s 33. Jackson took a shot deep down the right sideline for Nelson Agholor, who had beaten cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. The rookie, who has impressed with his makeup speed, sped backward and hit Agholor at almost the same time as the ball did.

Both teams celebrated — the Commanders for a pass breakup, the Ravens after what they believed was defensive pass interference — but no flag came.

Young, who ran out to practice with Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as the crowd applauded, did individual drills but no team work for the second straight day.

RPOs will be key in the Commanders’ offense

On the offensive line, Charles did not participate in the final team period, giving Paul another series with the starters. Rivera said Charles was “feeling it a little bit” in his calf, so the team decided to shut him down early. He did participate in the final session of individual drills.

Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (ankle) returned to practice and looked sharp. He kept up with smaller receivers on routes emphasizing quickness and tracked bigger receivers on longer crossing routes, breaking up a pass during the two-minute drill.





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