Winners of four of their last five games, the Washington Commanders plan to start Taylor Heinicke over Carson Wentz moving forward unless performance necessitates a change. Depending on when another quarterback change might happen, Sam Howell could be the favorite to supplant Heinicke instead of Wentz.
The main objective for Ron Rivera and Co. is not allowing Wentz to play 70 percent of the offensive snaps, so the 2023 third-round pick sent to the Colts doesn’t become a second-rounder. Wentz, who’s played nearly 60% of the snaps thus far, sitting out the next two games should put Washington in the clear.
At this juncture, it would be a surprise if the Commanders brought Wentz back for another season. That’s nothing against Wentz, but the fact Heinicke’s enjoyed more success than the former second overall pick speaks volumes.
As of this writing, though, Howell is the only QB under contract for 2023, meaning he should be in the mix to be the opening day starter. Developing behind the scenes as the team’s third stringer, Rivera seems pleased with Howell’s progress, though the head coach revealed one area Howell needs to show improvement.
Commanders Ron Rivera wants Sam Howell to improve in this key area.
"“I think he’s getting more and more comfortable,” Rivera said of Howell last week. “There’s some little details to his technique and his footwork that I know [QB coach] Kenny [Zampese]’s really harping on. In college, you can get away with those things, and he did, and he did a really great job, but there are some things that in this league you have to be really good at.”"
That seems to be the biggest adjustment for Howell. Though a three-year starter at North Carolina, the Tar Heels’ offense didn’t come close to replicating an NFL offense. That’s another hurdle Howell with have to clear, though the fifth-round pick didn’t seem overwhelmed in that regard during the preseason.
"“Great example, a couple of times in the preseason when he got sacked or got hit, it was understanding that you’re in shotgun; we considered this a five-step drop. Well, it’s not catch the ball, shuffle your feet and throw it,” Rivera added.“It’s you may have to take a step and a half to make it a five-step drop and that helps aid in the timing, helps aid in the protection, because if you’re only at three and a half, four yards, that guard or that tackles expecting you to be at five or six and you’re not, that’s tough on him. So those are little things that he has to understand what certain plays call for in terms of the depth of your drop and how important that is to your protection.”"
These comments don’t exactly ooze optimism that Howell will play this season. If that’s the case, fans will be extremely disappointed. It’s no surprise the former Tar Heel is still developing his footwork, but how many rookie passers are fully refined in that department?
Could Howell be any worse than Malik Willis looked in his two starts for the Titans? Kenny Pickett might be one and done in Pittsburgh a la Josh Rosen. Dolphins rookie Skylar Thompson has completed less than 58% of his passes. The Patriots’ Bailey Zappe is the only rookie who’s enjoyed a semblance of success, and even he was replaced by Mac Jones.
We totally get where Rivera is coming from, but we also don’t want Howell to be deprived of important snaps in Year 1 just because his footwork might be a little wonky after three years of starting in a different offense.