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Carson Wentz, Commanders’ new starting QB, settles in as camp begins

Washington Commanders QB Carson Wentz, right, greets WR Terry McLaurin on the first day of training camp on July 27, 2022. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Carson Wentz got an early jump on it during organized team activities and minicamp, and he got an even better feel for it during a brief trip to California this month.

But it wasn’t until Wednesday morning, when the Washington Commanders opened training camp in Ashburn, that their newest quarterback took his biggest strides toward building rapport with his teammates.

“Early on for me, it’s just finding that timing and chemistry with guys,” Wentz said. “You get a little bit of it in the spring. You get a little bit of it in the summer on your own. But now that you’re out here against the defense … just understanding guys and how they get in and out of breaks, in and out of cuts, finding that chemistry so I can get the ball out on time where it needs to be and just start working that chemistry with these guys — that’s really the focal point for me early on. But then also just building that culture, that chemistry, with all the guys both on and off the field.”

Wentz continues to field questions about his past after getting traded twice in two years, by the Philadelphia Eagles and later the Indianapolis Colts. His sometimes-erratic play as a quarterback is often questioned, too. The Commanders, however, have repeatedly claimed they view him as a significant value add, largely because of his athleticism, strong arm and prototypical build for his position.

“What he does on a day-to-day basis will tell me everything I need to know about him,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, a team captain, said. “He came in, he worked, he involved himself with the team, and he’s exactly what we want from a quarterback. So I have no questions. … He’s given me no reason to doubt him at all.”

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But among Wentz’s biggest tests, largely because of his past, will be building that connection with his teammates — on the field and off.

“For me, this is year seven. Things are different,” Wentz said. “I’m a little older and have a little different perspective, and [it’s a] relatively younger team, younger locker room. So just how do you build relationships? … Every locker room looks different, but you just have to be intentional and build that chemistry and that relationship in time. There’s a lot of good dudes in there, and it’s been fun getting to know them.”

Wentz got an introduction during organized team activities and minicamp in the spring. Then, in early July, after wide receiver Terry McLaurin signed his lucrative three-year contract extension, the two aligned in California with a handful of teammates for throwing sessions.

For a few days in Huntington Beach, Wentz and fellow quarterback Taylor Heinicke ran with tight end Cole Turner, running back Antonio Gibson and wideouts Jahan Dotson, Cam Sims, Dax Milne and McLaurin.

“I think it was beneficial to get on the field, obviously, for a couple of days and then start building that chemistry that I’ve been talking about,” Wentz said of the workout. “But also, just off the field, going to dinner with each guy, going to breakfast, lunch. Just being around them. Going and just kicking it with the guys, getting to know each guy, where we’re from, what we like, what are our hobbies.

“Guys are in different seasons of life. I got two kids and [am] married, and [there are] a lot of single guys, and there’s just a different kind of atmosphere. To come together and kind of build a relationship was a lot of fun.”

What did Wentz learn? McLaurin likes to golf, and Dotson, a rookie, “doesn’t do anything but play video games.”

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But learning their style and timing on the field continues to be a work in progress.

Wentz will be McLaurin’s eighth starting quarterback, and without the reps from spring workouts to help smooth any edges or work out timing issues, the two are essentially just beginning.

Typically, Wentz said, a quarterback can tell early on whether he will have a good connection with a receiver. Sometimes it takes time to build.

“Everyone’s unique. Everyone’s different,” he said. “Some days you come out here, and you’re going to get 20-some reps with the guys. Some days you’re going to not get a single one. And so that’s part of it. But you start to see guys’ tendencies early and start to kind of understand how they get in and out and what they do well and how we can work together. And so I like what I see out there. I think we’ve got a dynamic group and a lot of really good playmakers. We just got to find a way to get it in their hands; I’ve got to find a way to get it in their hands and let them make their plays.”

During team drills Wednesday, Wentz and McLaurin already seemed to have a good connection, which started during their time in California. But it’s not yet a clean operation.

On one play, Wentz threw a deep ball along the right sideline that McLaurin caught with two hands while falling backward to evade a defender. On another play, Wentz threw the ball low, but McLaurin dived to scoop it up just before it hit the ground.

“He and Terry, it was kind of cool to see,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “He threw one out there; Terry went out there and got it. And then another one, he threw a little behind Terry. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow, he missed that.’ But Terry came over and told him, ‘Hey, I came out of that too soon.’ So you can see that they’re already communicating with each other, which was really kind of cool.”

Running back shuffle

Gibson spent the majority of Wednesday’s practice on the side field with trainers. He dealt with a hamstring issue in the spring, so the team plans to “ramp him up” in training camp, Rivera said.

“We’re not going to throw him out right away and have something happen,” the coach said. “We want to make sure there’s nothing lingering. So I’d almost call that an abundance of caution.”

In Gibson’s absence, rookie Brian Robinson Jr. took almost the entirety of first-team reps.