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3 Storylines on Defensive Heading into Training Camp | Washington Commanders

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

By Adam Aniba

Heading into Training Camp, many fans will have their eyes on new quarterback Carson Wentz and the chemistry he develops with Terry McLaurin and the receivers. In this report, we'll take a look at a few camp storylines on defense that will impact the season.

The Defensive Backs

It's certain that Kam Curl, William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller will lead the defensive back unit, but the rest of the picture is still a bit murky. Although free safety/slot corner Bobby McCain was re-signed, fans should expect a competition for the starting free safety spot.

Head coach Ron RIvera discussed his vision and had high praise for Rooke FS Percy Butler. Rivera believes Butler will being involved in over 50% of the defensive snaps and will be integrated in the Buffalo Nickel formation (3 safety look).

Curl should be able to line up at the strong safety position consistently with McCain and Butler vying for snaps at FS. Although the Buffalo formation often features a linebacker/safety hybrid with Landon Collins being that guy last season, the defensive backfield is now a lot faster with Butler. McCain will line up as the starting FS when camp gets underway, but the former Dolphin will have competition on his hands for the starting spot.

At cornerback, we'll see Benjamin St-Juste get an opportunity to man the slot, but multiple concussions in '21 put his longevity into question. The CB#4 job will be up for grabs, with rookies Christian Holmes and Josh Drayden competing with vets Danny Johnson, Corn Elder, Troy Apke and a slew of UDFA's.

Past, Present & Future

Defensive tackle Daron Payne heads into what looks to be his final season in Washington. Although the Commanders picked up his 5th year option, there is little hope of an extension with a Sweat deal potentially on the horizon. His sideline scuffle with Jonathan Allen during a blowout loss to the Cowboys last season, was rock bottom for the defense. It would be naive to think there wasn't a lasting effect between the former Alabama tematates.

Most recently, Payne even dealt with former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III taunting him on Twitter. This will be a challenging year for Payne, who doesn't seem to be in the long term plans for Rivera. A career season for the former Alabama lineman, could change opinions, but the team believes they found Payne's replacement with another Tide DT in Phidarian Mathis.

Linebacker Depth

Many fans believe Washington didn't address linebacker depth in free agency or the draft and is a top concern on defense. Fourth year veteran linebacker Cole Holcomb has been slated to man the the highly coveted MIKE linebacker spot by DC Jack Del Rio and expectations couldn't be higher. As the middle linebacker, the former Tar Heel will get significantly more snaps than the other LB's on the roster. Some thought Jamin Davis would be the MLB of the future when he was drafted in the 1st round, but he'll line up strictly on the weak side this season.

Fans witnessed missed tackles and mental miscues with Davis, but it should be expected considering his limited overall experience at Kentucky. Expectations should be high for Davis to produce in year two and he'll need to utilize training camp, in addition to the preseason to refine his game.

Although a third linebacker will likely see less than 30% of the game snaps this season, it's a spot worth watching in camp, considering it's a wide open competition.

Third year linebacker Khaleke Hudson, was utilized in th hybrid Viper Role while at Michigan and could see time as the Big Nickel in the Buffalo formation. Hudson isn't a fit a SLB and veteran David Mayo along with the undrafted linebackers are better suited at MLB/WLB.

It's been a bit surprising that Washington hasn't brought in a veteran linebacker or two, but it seems for the next couple weeks, RIvera will see what he has in some of his undrafted guys.

As RIvera mentioned, he expects to line up in the Buffalo Nickel formation 53% of the time and that percentage should only go up this season.

One thing is certain, if Holcomb or Davis go down with any type of lengthy injury, Washington's defense and overall record could suffer. It would be a surprise if a free agent linebacker isn't added by week #1, but bringing back Collins in a hybrid role, could be something to keep an eye on.

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