3 Commanders backups who could become starters in 2023

James Smith-Williams
James Smith-Williams / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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Ricky Stromberg - Commanders OL

The Washington Commanders currently do not have a starting left guard. On paper, it is Andrew Norwell, and I suppose if he is anywhere near full health, Ron Rivera might feel better about having a veteran begin the season as a starter.

Norwell did not play very well early last year – but that is true of the entire offensive line. He did improve a bit as the season went on. However, I don’t think anyone wants to rely on an aging figure to be the answer.

Young players such as Saahdiq Charles and Chris Paul will certainly be in the mix, as will the usual raft of UDFAs. The early reports on Charles have been promising, and perhaps this will be the year the former fourth-round pick emerges. But we have heard this story before. Time will tell.

I suspect Washington’s best option at left guard is currently slated to be the starting center – Nick Gates. The free-agent signing was a college tackle who made the transition to the center spot once he reached the pros.

His early progress was stunted by injury, but in recent years, when he has been mostly healthy, Gates has shown some quality. And he's demonstrated it at guard as well.

Gates switched between center and left guard as needed for the New York Giants in recent years. I think he looks equally good at either position.

So if the Commanders can find another center, Gates could take over the left guard spot. That could be veteran Tyler Larsen. Washington played its best football with him at center in 2022, but he will be 32 years old by the time this season begins and he is coming off consecutive season-ending injuries.

The Commanders selected Ricky Stromberg in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, and it’s not hard to see him as a Day 1 starter. At Arkansas, he was a standout playing against the best college defenses in the country. He is not an elite athlete, but there is no part of his athletic profile that causes any concern.

Besides, playing center often has as much to do with intelligence and toughness as raw physicality. No one has ever questioned those parts of Stromberg’s game.

There were three blue-chip centers available in this year’s draft. Most analysts ranked Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann as the best. The New York Jets took him early in the second round. When it was the Commanders' turn several picks later, they opted for defensive back Quan Martin over John Michael Schmitz, who was generally considered second. He went to the Giants.

It will be interesting to watch how Stromberg and Schmitz develop over the next few years. Both should become starters in the NFC East in short order. If Stromberg is able to lock down the center position for the Commanders in 2023, it will make that pick – as well as the surprise selection of Martin – look a lot better.