Commanders Camp: Former 1st Team Safety Among Names To Watch?

July 21, 2022

Names To Watch At Camp

With training camp opening next week, signs that the NFL season draws closer with every passing minute are in the air. For Washington, this season will mark a rebirth for the now 90-year-old franchise as they roll out a new name and identity.

Commanders Training Camp opens on July 27 and runs through August 18. During those three weeks, which include the first week of the preseason, the team will look to find their best starting 22 players along with 31 reserves out of the 90 players currently under contract.

Along the way, there will be several players who stand out, here are a few names to keep an eye on.

John Bates, TE, Commanders

John Bates was viewed as a solid number two tight end with strong blocking ability when the Washington Commanders drafted him with the 124th pick in the fourth round of the 2021 draft.

Bates was branded as a blocking tight end mainly because of the lack of overall targets during his time at Boise State. In 23 games across four years, he only pulled in 47 catches for 579 yards and two touchdowns.

During his first season with Washington, Bates appeared in all 17 games, starting eight, and made 20 catches on 25 targets for 249 yards and a touchdown. His 12.5 yards per catch average was among the league’s best at his position.

With Logan Thomas possibly starting the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), Bates has the best chance of winning the starting role heading into Week 1 if Thomas isn’t healthy enough. That makes his performance over the next few weeks something everyone should keep an eye on with the serious competition he’ll face this year at his position.

Brian Robinson Jr, RB, Commanders

Brian Robinson Jr is someone Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera and company viewed as a short-yardage back without a ton of college miles when they drafted him with the 98th pick this year.

What they may end up with is an every down back who patiently waited for his time to be the starter at the University of Alabama. While Robinson put up 2704 yards rushing in his four years with the Crimson Tide, he put up over 1300 of those yards last year when he finally became the starting running back.

With the way Alabama recruits, there’s always a waiting line for underclassmen. That ultimately could be a blessing in disguise for Robinson. Less carries in college should mean a longer shelf life for him in the pros.

While the Commanders appear to be completely devoted to Antonio Gibson as their starter and J.D. McKissic as their third down back, Robinson is not in the NFL to be a backup.

With whispers that offensive coordinator Scott Turner may look to use Gibson more in the passing game, Robinson might already be in-line for a decent-sized role.

One could argue that he’s in a perfect situation behind Gibson, who’s not a traditional running back and has had issues fumbling his first two seasons. A strong showing by Robinson could put Gibson in an awkward position, especially if his issues putting the ball on the ground haven’t been fixed.

Darrick Forrest, Safety, Commanders

When Washington selected safety Darrick Forrest with the 163rd pick of the 2021 draft, the thought was that his unique blend of speed (4.41 forty time), strength, and athletic ability could be something the team could utilize in their system.

Forrest was a first-team All-AAC selection while at the University of Cincinnati and as it stands, he’s now one of the leading candidates heading into camp for the Commanders ‘Buffalo Nickel’ position left vacant since they released Landon Collins. The ‘Buffalo Nickel‘ is basically a hybrid linebacker/safety who covers opposing players that defenses don’t normally match up well with.

For example, a lot of teams roll out two tight ends sets these days, which creates mismatches in space for slot corners against big receiving tight ends. The same can be said about big receivers matched up against smaller slot corners. This is why teams have started to look for safeties who can make the transition.

Forrest lost most of his rookie season to a hamstring injury that kept him on injured reserve until November after showing flashes during camp. The question now is, has he progressed enough over the last year to make an impact where the Commanders need him most? We’ll have to keep an eye on him over the next few weeks to find out.

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