The Washington Commanders have inched closer to finding their initial 53-man roster. As required by the NFL, the team pared its camp roster to 85 players Tuesday, releasing cornerback De’Vante Bausby, safety Troy Apke and guard Deion Calhoun and placing tight end Sammis Reyes and fullback Alex Armah on injured reserve.
If there’s a surprise in the group, it’s Apke, a fifth-year defensive back whom Coach Ron Rivera described as a special teams “ace.” Apke, who switched from cornerback to safety on defense, has been dealing with a calf injury and did not participate in much of camp.
Because Reyes and Armah were placed on the reserve list before the final reduction to 53 players, their seasons are over unless they reach injury settlements with the team. But if either player reaches a settlement in the next seven business days, he can return later in the season, once he misses three regular season games plus the number of games covered by his settlement. Neither player would count against the Commanders’ roster cap while on IR.
Reyes and Armah have been dealing with hamstring injuries; Reyes played two special teams snaps in the Commanders’ preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers, and Armah was held out.
Rivera said multiple factors influence the decision on cuts: a player’s skill set, his ability to play multiple phases and the team’s needs elsewhere.
“Going through preseason, you look at guys for their value on special teams,” Rivera said. “You look at their value for developmental, their ability to get better as a player. And then you look at their value for depth when you’re looking at the young guys. Some of the other battles are a little bit different, because you’re looking at the potential for starting, and that’s a pretty intense one.”
A player’s value could be dependent on the various combinations the team wants from certain position groups. It also depends on the health of other positions; adding a fourth tight end, say, means taking away a defensive lineman or maybe a defensive back to keep the roster at 53.
“Tight end will be a tremendous discussion; running back will be an unbelievable discussion,” Rivera said. “Is it going to be nine, 10 or 11 DBs? But if you do that, what happens to your linebackers numbers? Is it seven, six or five? . . . We go through that exercise pretty often right now.”
Washington technically has 86 players on its roster, rather than the allotted 85; because defensive end David Bada joined through the International Player Pathway program, he does not count against the limit. Teams have to further pare their rosters to a maximum of 80 by Aug. 23, then cut to 53 by Aug. 30.
After practice, Rivera gathered his players and coaches in a huddle and lit into them for approximately six minutes, appearing animated and at times livid. When asked about it, Rivera refused to provide much detail, saying, “I don’t like some of the things that happened.”
The Commanders went 12 periods in pads, at times playing at a live tempo and at other times playing at more of a “thud” style, where they don’t fully bring players to the ground.
The trash-talking was sometimes heated, notably after Terry McLaurin caught a pass by leaping above the heads of cornerback Kendall Fuller and safety Kam Curl. Fuller and McLaurin continued to talk through the next play.
Throughout camp, Rivera has stressed limiting the trash talk, so it doesn’t eat into practice time, and playing smartly, so as to not unnecessarily risk injury with hits or poor decisions.
Near the end of team drills, competition intensified, and an offensive lineman fell into the leg of quarterback Sam Howell. Touching the quarterback, let alone bringing him to the ground, is typically off limits in camp and practice.
Gibson on special teams?
Rivera threw in a surprise for camp Tuesday. Running back Antonio Gibson worked with the third-string offense for a bit and helped out in punt coverage on special teams. It’s rare to see a starting running back be a part of special teams in that capacity, yet Rivera brushed it off as not a big deal.
“Antonio worked with the ones, the twos and the threes,” he said. “He’s working with the special teams. Brian Robinson worked with the ones, the twos, and he’s worked with the threes as well. And he’s also worked with the special teams as well. So that’s what we’re doing. … We want to be able to use all our players.”
It’s plausible to wonder if the move is also related to Gibson’s play Saturday. He fumbled in the first quarter of the preseason opener, which helped set up the Panthers’ first touchdown. Gibson has a history of issues with ball security, last season leading all backs with six fumbles.
Robinson, a rookie, replaced Gibson for the subsequent series and scored on a one-yard run.
When asked if there’s a competition for the starting job, Rivera said, “There’s always been a competition for the positions on this team.”
Veteran guard and center Wes Schweitzer went to the training tent early in practice and did not return to the sideline or field afterward. Rivera said there’s “some concern” because Schweitzer is dealing with a hip injury. Schweitzer was sent inside to begin treatment.
Playing time in Kansas City
The Commanders have started to work through their plans for the second preseason game, at Kansas City on Saturday. Rivera said they “most certainly” are going to play their healthy starters, but “how far they go is still up for debate.”
He said some players, such as center Chase Roullier (ankle), will be on pitch counts, so once they hit their allowed number of reps, they’ll be pulled. Roullier is one of multiple Commanders players recovering from injuries.