Jan 09, 2024

Five takeaways from Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew's joint press conference

Senior Writer

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew addressed the media after the team announced its initial 53-man roster. Here are five takeaways from their joint press conference.

1. Things are still fluid.

Yes, the Commanders have narrowed their roster down from 90 players to 53, and yes, most of the players they chose will be available for Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. That doesn't mean they are done making moves, though.

Both Mayhew and Rivera described the roster as "fluid." That's because there are still several situations that need to be resolved between now and the start of the season. For starters, several players are set to clear waivers today, and some of them could help improve certain positions for the Commanders. Washington could sign them, but that also means the team would need to make room for them.

The decision to place certain players on Injured Reserve is also something to consider. Washington has already done that with nine players, but those individuals are done for the year because they were placed on IR before Aug. 29. Now, should Washington need to add a player to the list, they only need to wait four games before they can return to action.

As Mayhew said, "We're always trying to get better." And while the Commanders do like the players they have at their disposal, they are still open to bringing in others who could elevate the roster.

2. Mitchell Tinsley was a standout from Day 1.

The competition to fill the bottom of the receiver position was one of the Commanders' most intense battles this year. With the top four positions already filled, the opportunities for what Mayhew called "the best group of undrafted free agents that we've had since I've been here" were limited.

In the end, Washington kept seven wideouts with Mitchell Tinsley, a former standout from Penn State, making the cut. Tinsley quickly became a fan favorite because of his effort and knack for making explosive plays downfield. From the way Rivera described it, Tinsley had caught the coaches' attention from Day 1.

"You just saw it whether it was when we started back in OTA's on the rookie camps and all that stuff that we had and then we saw it from the beginning of training camp and he just progressed and progressed and progressed," Rivera said.

There was some speculation that Tinsley would be a priority practice squad candidate as fans and media members started to play the numbers game with the roster. Then the Commanders kicked off their preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, and that decision became a bit harder. Tinsley led the Commanders with 83 yards and a touchdown on three catches, one of which was almost a second touchdown.

It's unclear how much Tinsley will play as a rookie with several veterans in front of him, and perhaps the Commanders could have snuck him on the practice squad in favor of a more experienced wideout. Washington didn't want to take that chance, though.

"He was a young man that we really felt pretty confident about his growth and development."

3. Mayhew thinks Sam Howell has been "outstanding."

There's been a lot of...surprise from analysts outside the Commanders' facility about Sam Howell and the team's decision to name him the starting quarterback. Perhaps some of that is fair; after all, most of the national reporters aren't at practice to see Howell's development.

For people like Mayhew, who have watched Howell play for years, it's not surprising at all.

"Sam's been outstanding," Mayhew said.

Mayhew was impressed with Howell from the moment he saw the quarterback at Dyami Brown’s pro day in 2021. Howell showed confidence in the pocket, and Mayhew said, "he went out and put it on the line in front of everybody."

Mayhew also pointed out that while the media and fans only saw him play in one game last season, the team has seen him grow from his rookie minicamp to his rookie year. Howell's accuracy, decision making and the ability to create things off schedule all stand out to the team.

All of that is why Washington feels more comfortable with the quarterback position than they have been in a while.

"I have a lot of confidence in him, a lot of belief in him," Mayhew said. "I think we all do."

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4. The defensive line "drives our whole defense."

The Commanders' defensive line kept 11 defensive linemen in 2023, which makes up one-fifth of their initial roster. On the surface, that might seem excessive, and sure, the Commanders had to take numbers away from other positions to make that possible. When the group has so many talented players, though, it's hard to let even one of them go.

"I don't wanna get into specific players, but that's an area that drives our whole defense," Mayhew said. "That's a priority for us."

Most know about the Commanders' starting defensive line. It's considered one of the best in football, and with another year of experience together, it's expected to improve in 2023. But there are several backups who could be starters elsewhere that provide valuable depth. Players like James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill had exceptional performances in camp. The group also boasts plenty of versatility with the likes of Efe Obada able to play on the edge and the interior.

There are also the draft picks -- Andre Jones Jr. and KJ Henry -- who might not play much this season but could be bigger contributors later in their careers. The defensive line has always been the Commanders' biggest strength on that side of the ball. So, why not make it even stronger?

"We felt like it's important to have depth there and important to keep those young players that are playing well for us," Mayhew said.

the initial 53📰

5. Washington is confident in the offensive line.

The Commanders' biggest question marks come on the offensive line. After going through a month of practices, there seems to be an answer on who will make up the starting five, but a mixture of new additions, plus a lack of previous experience together, means that most are taking a "wait and see" approach.

The group has taken strides since the start of camp, though, and the team is confident in the players they will put on the field for Week 1.

"I feel good about our offensive line," Mayhew said. "I feel really good about our process, too, of how we got here."

Washington put in massive effort to fix an offensive line that struggled in 2022. Andrew Wylie was brought in to be the starting right tackle, Nick Gates was signed to be the starting center, and Sam Cosmi was moved to right guard. Building chemistry together is still a work in progress, but there has been growth in that area.

And players who have been on the roster for years are starting to show development. Saahdiq Charles, for example, has grasped the starting left guard spot, and Mayhew believes that Charles "has had his best camp since I've been here."

"The guy's athletic, he can get to the second level. He does a lot of really good things, and this has been the best of these plays since I've been here, so we're excited about that."

There are still questions about the group, and several of them are justified. However, the team has seen enough to believe it will be an improvement from 2022, which is what matters most.

Ron RiveraMartin Mayhew1. Things are still fluid.2. Mitchell Tinsley was a standout from Day 1.Mitchell Tinsley,3. Mayhew thinks Sam Howell has been "outstanding."Sam HowellDyami Brown’s4. The defensive line "drives our whole defense."James Smith-WilliamsCasey ToohillEfe ObadaAndre Jones Jr.KJ Henry5. Washington is confident in the offensive line.Andrew WylieNick GatesSam CosmiSaahdiq Charles,