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Six position battles to watch as Washington Football Team training camp begins

Rookie Dyami Brown will compete for Washington's third wide receiver spot. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
4 min

Last year, the Washington Football Team didn’t have many position battles in training camp, a product of an atypical schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of depth at certain spots and some coaching decisions.

This training camp promises to be different. While Washington appears set at quarterback, with Ryan Fitzpatrick the projected Week 1 starter, the team has several competitions for key roles, including some starting positions.

Here are six position battles to watch:

Third wide receiver

Adam Humphries vs. Dyami Brown vs. Cam Sims

One question related to this position battle is how offensive coordinator Scott Turner plans to use Curtis Samuel. If the former Panthers wideout is lined up primarily outside (as he was in 2018 and 2019, when Turner was on Carolina’s offensive staff), then the advantage for the third spot likely goes to Humphries, who is far more experienced in the slot than Brown or Sims. If Samuel lines up primarily inside (as he did when he had a career year for Carolina last season), then the advantage probably goes to Sims because of his size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) or Brown, the third-round rookie who excelled as a deep threat in college.

WFT rookie Sam Cosmi is all about the details. He gets it from his dad, an auto mechanic.

The dark horse is Antonio Gandy-Golden, the 2020 fourth-round pick limited to six games last season because of injuries. He’s a similar size to Sims, and in college he showed a knack for snagging contested catches.

While it’s possible, if not likely, Turner mixes the third receiver rotation to hunt favorable matchups from week to week, this position battle still matters. Washington used more than three receivers on just two plays last season, the lowest mark in the NFL, according to Sharp Football Stats.

Free safety

Bobby McCain vs. Deshazor Everett vs. Jeremy Reaves

This position is important for Washington to get right. Last season, Sean Davis, a free agent signed to shore it up, was cut after camp, and the ensuing instability was a major contributor to Washington allowing nine plays of 50-plus yards, the league’s second-worst mark.

The favorite is McCain, the seven-year veteran signed after the Miami Dolphins cut him in May. After moving on from Troy Apke last season, Washington got six starts from Everett and three from Reaves and still scooped up McCain, though Coach Ron Rivera explained it as a move simply to bolster competition and positional flexibility. McCain was a cornerback until 2019, when he moved to free safety.

Everett and McCain shared first-team reps during offseason workouts.

Khaleke Hudson, versatile and confident, is ready for a larger role in Washington’s defense

The Nate Kaczor pick on offense

The last receiver vs. the last running back vs. the last tight end

One of the least predictable roster spots every year is the last skill position player championed by the special teams coordinator. There are a lot of variables when trimming the roster, but it’s reasonable to assume that some of the final decisions could be made based on which offensive skill positions can contribute the most on special teams.

At receiver, there are two good returner candidates: DeAndre Carter and Steven Sims Jr. Both could breathe life into a punt return unit Kaczor called “a hot topic” this offseason after finishing with the league’s worst Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). In the loaded receiver room, non-return special teams could also help Kelvin Harmon (201 snaps in 2019) as he looks to edge out Isaiah Wright (83 in 2020) or Gandy-Golden (zero). The same is true at tight end and running back, where Temarrick Hemingway and Peyton Barber, respectively, not only have the most experience but also have an existing level of comfort with Kaczor.

Strong safety

Kam Curl vs. Landon Collins

Collins, the second-highest-paid safety in the NFL, is returning from an Achilles’ tendon tear to challenge Curl, the seventh-round pick who took over for him and excelled last season. After Collins suffered the season-ending injury in Week 7, Curl showed smarts, physicality and a knack for blitzing.

The position is one of the defense’s biggest unresolved puzzle pieces. If coordinator Jack Del Rio sticks with Curl, he must find a way to accommodate Collins, whose $16.7 million in dead money makes him uncuttable. The team could shift Curl to free safety or devise a subpackage to get three safeties on the field at the same time more often.

Right tackle

Cornelius Lucas vs. Sam Cosmi

This is a classic camp clash: veteran stopgap (Lucas) against ascending rookie (Cosmi). The team already showed its long-term belief in Cosmi by releasing longtime right tackle Morgan Moses, but Lucas, older and more refined, could make a strong case to be the Week 1 starter. The 30-year-old was solid in eight starts at left tackle last season, though on Tuesday he was placed on the covid-19 reserve list.

The big question here is how long it takes Cosmi to adapt his technique and become more consistent. If he adjusts quickly, he could be starting sooner than later.

Backup quarterback

Taylor Heinicke vs. Kyle Allen

Heinicke would seemingly have the advantage here. He put up a strong performance in January’s playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being signed late in the season, and Allen is coming off a season-ending injury.

Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese dismissed concerns about Heinicke’s success coming in a small sample size.

“Okay, five quarters, but that was a pretty good five quarters right there,” Zampese said. “ … Let’s extrapolate that out into the whole season. Wow, that’d be pretty good.”

But it’s clear Washington values Allen. In January, when asked if anyone but Alex Smith could’ve led Washington’s resurgence, Rivera named Allen. The 25-year-old said he expects to be fully healed from his broken ankle for camp, and Zampese said he was impressed with Allen’s progress.

“Consistency. Dependability,” Zampese said when asked what would decide the competition. “When we play the person, we know what we’re getting, and it’s not all over the place. It’s consistent. It’s on an upward trend.”

Honorable mentions

Left guard: Wes Schweitzer vs. Ereck Flowers vs. Saahdiq Charles

Third running back: Barber vs. Jaret Patterson

Slot cornerback: Jimmy Moreland vs. Darryl Roberts

What to read about the Washington Commanders

Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Capitol Hill: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Snyder.

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Penalized: The NFL fined Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and docked the team two OTA practices in 2023 for excessive hitting during their offseason program this year, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.