ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders mentioned all of it offseason: Quarterback Sam Howell was their man. Then, throughout final week’s draft, their actions spoke even louder. The Commanders didn’t draft a quarterback, as some analysts projected them to do. Which implies: Howell actually is their man, similar to they’d been saying all alongside.
Which may have stunned many exterior of Washington, however the Commanders actually do like Howell, getting into his second season, and sources inside the group say they plan to present him first shot on the beginning job in 2023. They like how he developed throughout 2022, culminating in a 26-6 common season finale win over Dallas. In his one and solely begin — and sport motion — Howell accomplished 11-of-19 passes for 169 yards, one landing go, one speeding TD and an interception.
However the group’s confidence in him goes past simply what he confirmed in that sport.
“I am proud of precisely the place he’s,” Washington normal supervisor Martin Mayhew mentioned.
That’s why the Commanders weren’t tempted to select Kentucky’s Will Levis when he was accessible with the sixteenth decide, opting as an alternative for cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. One group supply mentioned the one quarterback who would have tempted them was Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker — however provided that he was there once they chosen within the third spherical.
Even so, they didn’t really feel the identical urgency they did final offseason, once they known as each group that may have a quarterback accessible. They even phoned the retired Andrew Luck, simply in case. They in the end traded two third-round picks to Indianapolis for Carson Wentz and his $28 million cap hit. Then, they minimize Wentz at season’s finish after accidents and inconsistent play contributed to him ending thirtieth in QBR after simply eight begins. This offseason, their solely transfer on the place was signing veteran Jacoby Brissett.
Crew sources say the Commanders additionally like Howell as a result of he is on a rookie contract, which has allowed them to make different strikes resembling re-signing defensive deal with Daron Payne.
With a brand new possession coming quickly, coach Ron Rivera and his workers enter a vital 12 months and Howell is the man who might make or break their fates. They want him to work. And this is the reason they’re assured he can:
‘I’m not suggesting he’ll be the following Drew Brees, however…’
In keeping with sources with information of the Commanders’ draft course of, Washington’s scouts gave him a grade that equated to a second-round decide. A few of them gave him a third-round equal however others had him within the late first. One supply mentioned main into the draft that, had they not traded for Wentz, they’d have focused Howell on the second day. When he was nonetheless accessible within the fifth spherical, the Commanders pounced.
In scouting receiver Dyami Brown earlier than the 2021 draft, and attending his professional day at North Carolina the place Howell was throwing passes to him, they acquired to see Howell up shut.
“It was a really spectacular day,” Mayhew mentioned. “You’d’ve thought he was one of many guys popping out. And there is a quiet confidence that he has. The blokes belief him, they respect him, he works his butt off. He is very sensible. Like I mentioned, he could make each throw that there’s and the man’s very, very gifted. He’ll be a great participant, I consider.”
The Commanders had been additionally nicely conscious of what the Tar Heel coaches considered Howell. They thought-about Howell obsessive about the sport, saying he’d research fronts and protections on Sunday mornings — the day after a sport — which allowed the coaches to have extra superior conversations with him once they met.
“The sport comes naturally to him,” mentioned former UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo, now at Wisconsin.
After the draft, Longo in contrast Howell to ex-New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. By way of dimension at 6-foot-1, Howell is one inch taller and has pocket presence and skill to make fast throws whilst defenders swarm him.
“I’m not suggesting he’ll be the following Drew Brees,” Longo mentioned, “however skillset he has the identical strengths.”
‘I’ve come a great distance’
Throughout coaching camp, in comparison with the opposite quarterbacks on the roster — Wentz and backup Taylor Heinicke — Howell was clearly behind. Quite a few sources with the group mentioned on the time he wanted to repair his fundamentals. Howell himself mentioned he wanted to concentrate on his footwork and timing up his ft with the route ideas — one thing he didn’t do as a lot at North Carolina.
“We noticed that due to his quick-twitch means to get the ball out, there have been some issues he will get lazy with,” Rivera mentioned.
In a preseason sport towards Baltimore, Rivera pointed to a play through which Howell did not take a fast shuffle out of shotgun that may have given him a five-step drop. As an alternative, he stayed near the place he took the snap and was sacked on the play. However, Rivera mentioned, had Howell used correct footwork, he would have had extra depth and higher timing on the route.
“That was what I used to be nervous about,” Rivera mentioned concerning the influence of sloppy footwork.
“In faculty we took the identical drop for many of our go performs,” Howell mentioned in December. “Right here, each play you’ve acquired to know the precise drop and know what number of hitches the ball has to return out in every development.”
However Howell and the coaches targeted on his footwork from the time he arrived. By season’s finish it was higher. And by season’s finish, Howell was in a great spot. Even when he has to be taught a brand new system underneath new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Howell likes the place he’s at in his growth. His footwork was not a problem within the season finale win towards Dallas.
“I’ve come a great distance,” he mentioned.
‘Gamers know gamers’
As a result of Wentz missed seven weeks final season with a damaged proper ring finger, Howell acquired an opportunity to get snaps with the primary group in observe. Heinicke, who was beginning for Wentz, acquired nearly all the reps however there have been intervals through which Howell took all of the snaps.
“In the direction of the top of the season final season we began seeing some actual constructive indicators that actually confirmed he’s very assured and comfy,” Rivera mentioned. “A few instances some issues occurred in observe and you’d see him repair it himself. That was at all times one thing that you simply search for. He was doing issues like that most likely mid to finish of the season so we felt actually snug about it.”
Earlier than this level Howell’s main position had been with the scout group. His job was to emulate the opposing offense towards a protection that had labored towards particular appears to be like.
“They know what’s approaching protection but he nonetheless made the throws. That’s what was spectacular,” Rivera mentioned.
Rivera mentioned he seen how gamers reacted to Howell in observe, whether or not scout group or with the starters. Privately, by season’s finish, gamers felt he was prepared to begin — some even predicted he’d do very nicely within the NFL.
“The very first thing you’d hear from the defensive guys was, ‘I used to be attempting to make that play, I simply couldn’t get to the ball,’” Rivera mentioned. “The previous saying is that gamers know gamers. As you hearken to them discuss it, [receivers would say], ‘His ball was so catchable; he threw that to the one spot [open].”
Sam Howell’s first NFL go try goes for a TD to Terry McLaurin!
— NFL (@NFL) January 8, 2023
‘The throw on the landing was pretty much as good because it will get’
Howell’s lone begin practically didn’t happen. Rivera initially tabbed Heinicke to begin the finale towards the Cowboys though Washington had been eradicated. The plan was for Howell to then take over in the course of the sport. However Heinicke and others satisfied Rivera that Howell ought to begin and get the entire sport.
It’s a great factor he listened; Howell was in a position to present extra of what he might do. Rivera preferred that after throwing an interception in the long run zone, Howell instantly informed him what he did mistaken and the way he might right it.
There have been different performs that stood out for Washington. On Howell’s first go, following a Dallas turnover, he linked with receiver Terry McLaurin for a 16-yard landing. The Cowboys had been in man protection, however McLaurin’s man handed him off to a linebacker over the center to take away a shallow cross.
Nevertheless, Howell learn man protection on the line and was ready for the way the Cowboys performed McLaurin. He additionally knew how McLaurin would react on his selection route — proceed to run throughout as a result of it was man. Rivera mentioned Howell made the play due to his pre-snap learn.
“The throw on the landing was pretty much as good because it will get,” Rivera mentioned. “He hit him in stride.”
Later, Howell linked with receiver Jahan Dotson for features of 30, 22 and 20 yards. Of these 74 yards, 47 got here after the catch. There was a slant over the center when he gained 22 yards after the catch through which Howell planted, patted the ball as soon as and hit Dotson in stride earlier than a defender might come over to assist.
Then, with defenders nearly in his lap, he linked with Dotson on a 10-yard out, placing the ball to the surface and main Dotson into 10 extra yards.
“He was the rationale I turned it up and acquired yards after the catch,” Dotson mentioned. “On the slants throughout the center he put it in stride, proper the place it must be. The arm expertise, all of us knew he had it. It was only a matter of getting in these conditions.”