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As Commanders minicamp opens, Ron Rivera says roster still has needs

Commanders Coach Ron Rivera on his team's linebacker situation: "We’d like to get a few more guys to be a bit deeper there.” (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
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At rookie minicamp Friday afternoon, as the Washington Commanders’ newest crop of players practiced as pros for the first time, Coach Ron Rivera acknowledged the roster still has needs.

“If we’re looking at one position, it is going to be linebacker,” Rivera said. “We’re very pleased with the number of guys we have here, but we don’t have another veteran-type guy once we get past [third-year linebacker] Khaleke [Hudson]. … We’d like to get a few more guys to be a bit deeper there.”

In his third year, the coach and former linebacker is still searching for an answer specifically at middle linebacker. Washington didn’t draft one after spending its first-round pick on Jamin Davis in 2021, and Rivera said the team is “looking at” giving Cole Holcomb, last year’s starter, another opportunity in the role. He also mentioned Davis and depth veteran David Mayo, though each seems unlikely given Rivera’s critiques of their games at the end of last season.

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On Monday, while the team was still finalizing its undrafted free agent class, Rivera met with coaches and the personnel department to address remaining holes. The team could, in addition to linebacker, add defensive backs and defensive linemen. Rivera also pointed out that the team is relying on the improvement of players who underperformed or were hurt last season, such as defensive end Chase Young and Davis.

In walk-through offseason workouts, Rivera said Davis is “going in the right direction” with formation recognition and communication.

While it seems unlikely an undrafted free agent could have a significant impact early, Washington did sign three linebackers after the draft. The Washington Post obtained the contract details for eight of the Commanders’ 13 undrafted free agents, and by total guarantee, two linebackers — Tre Walker of Idaho ($95,000) and Ferrod Gardner of Louisiana Lafayette ($80,000) — were slated to make the most.

The details for linebacker Drew White of Notre Dame were unclear.

Veteran linebackers such as Joe Schobert and Kwon Alexander are available on the market, but Washington could be waiting for further movement leaguewide before making a move. Last year, in mid-May or later, the Commanders turned other teams’ salary cap casualties into starters at left tackle, safety and returner.

During minicamp, when asked about how much progress he felt the roster had made since the draft, Rivera emphasized patience.

“We’ve got time,” he said. “Last time I looked, kickoff is the second weekend in September.”

First looks

In the team’s practice bubble, the offensive rookies stood out during what were mostly individual drills.

Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson, the first-round pick, was sure-handed and steady, catching slants and back-shoulder throws from fifth-round quarterback Sam Howell (North Carolina). On one back-shoulder, Howell threw behind Dotson and the wide receiver adjusted to haul in a tough catch, displaying the focus and hands NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah called the “best in the class.”

“Jahan looks as solid as advertised,” Rivera said. “We were real pleased to see what we saw from him. I thought he moved around really well.”

On Howell: “Sam threw the ball very well. He's got good footwork and a strong arm. That was very evident.”

Cole Turner, the fifth-round tight end from Nevada, also displayed the athleticism and catch radius Rivera and General Manager Martin Mayhew praised during the draft with some leaping, athletic catches, especially down the seam.

Undrafted free agent details

By total guarantee, linebackers Walker and Gardner are slated to make the most, followed by tight end Armani Rogers ($67,500), defensive end Jacub Panasiuk ($65,000), wide receiver/returner Jequez Ezzard ($55,000), wide receiver Kyric McGowan ($5,000), cornerback Devin Taylor ($3,500) and safety De’Vante Cross ($2,500).

The details are unclear for offensive lineman Tyrese Robinson, linebacker White, tight end Curtis Hodges, cornerback Josh Drayden and quarterback Cole Kelley.

In each of Rivera’s first two seasons, an undrafted free agent has made the 53-man roster out of training camp.

Dotson won’t skip graduation Saturday

Dotson said he was planning to skip his graduation from Penn State on Saturday until Ron Rivera told him not to. Dotson, a telecommunications major, pointed out that not many members of his family have graduated and that it will mean a lot to him to receive his diploma.

“[Rivera] said that’s a once in a million thing,” Dotson said. “He was all for me going. I honestly hadn’t even thought about skipping practice until he kind of talked about it.”

O-line has ‘really come together’

Following the signing of guard Trai Turner this week, Rivera said the offensive line has “really come together.” Washington likes to maintain a stable of 10 experienced linemen — and Turner is No. 10.

“We’re trying to emulate [the approach with 10 linemen] because, again, the depth is what was very successful for us last season.” Rivera said. “We want to continue that.”