Washington Commanders get back to football after turbulent offseason

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As the clock handed 8:15 on Wednesday morning and gamers trickled onto the sector, the rays of the solar began burning off the clouds. It had been one other darkish and stormy offseason for the Washington Commanders, however with the addition of some key items and a reasonably pleasant schedule, some on the football aspect of the group harbored cautious optimism.

The opening of this 12 months’s coaching camp felt totally different from these prior to now. The group has a brand new title, brand and quarterback, and for the primary time since 2012, it is beginning at dwelling in Ashburn reasonably than on the facility in Richmond. Coach Ron Rivera held his pre-practice rightsholder radio interview with a classic-rock station as a substitute of a sports-talk hub. The crowd of followers was smaller, and it lacked the grinning rogues of Richmond who roamed the sidelines carrying Eagles and Cowboys jerseys whereas basking within the boos.

Instead, the Commanders’ first preseason observe was comparatively quick and low-key. The session began a countdown to the vital third 12 months of Rivera’s tenure — 47 days till Week 1 — however everybody, maybe particularly the coach, appeared excited simply to get back to football. The franchise had spent all spring and summer season in controversy quicksand as stadium laws failed to move in Virginia, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio referred to as the Jan. 6 revolt a “dust-up,” and proprietor Daniel Snyder’s bitter battle with Congress dragged on.

The night time earlier than camp, Rivera was requested how he had handled a 3rd straight summer season being swamped by unhealthy information.

“If I’m not right here, I’m not apprehensive about it,” he quipped. “I’ll inform you that proper now.”

But then his tone grew a little bit weary. “It’s virtually to be anticipated, to be sincere with you,” he added. “It goes in cycles.”

This new Daniel Snyder appears an terrible lot just like the outdated one

Rivera’s phrases and shrugging shoulders appeared to be a glimpse of how the fixed pressure has worn on him. He tried one among his favourite phrases to clarify how he offers with the group’s issues — “Don’t concentrate on what’s attention-grabbing; concentrate on what’s necessary” — however this time, it did not really feel fairly proper. These investigations and allegations are necessary, he mentioned, and he did not need anybody to assume he was being dismissive. But on the identical time, he can not management Congress or Snyder.

“To me, the necessary factor is football,” Rivera mentioned. “I’m right here to be judged on that, okay? The judgment begins with successful or dropping. … Does [the controversy] make what I do more durable? Yeah, it actually does.”

“As a football coach, what I’ve to do is I’ve bought to make this group presentable as a football group on the football discipline and locally,” he continued. “The gamers and coaches, we now have to have success. We have to exit and play. Why? Because we’d like the followers behind us. The followers get behind us, give us help, assist construct this up, get some momentum going, and a few good issues can occur. I consider that as a result of I do know what this space is able to.”

Rivera, a linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984 to 1992, reminisced about how raucous the followers used to get at RFK Stadium.

“I would like to get the fan base back,” he mentioned. “I do not need folks mixing up what occurred back then [in previous scandals] with what we’re making an attempt to do as a football group, okay? Appreciate us for being the football group — and the opposite stuff is over there. That’s what I’m hoping.”

Out on the sector, Rivera surveyed his progress. He greeted gamers with fist bumps and handshakes and listened to his coaches coach. (“This is the way you learn a launch,” assistant defensive backs coach Richard Rodgers barked.) He watched offensive coordinator Scott Turner direct the retooled unit, and when quarterback Carson Wentz related on a deep throw to star wideout Terry McLaurin, Rivera remarked, “If anyone’s questioning why we did [his contract]that, to me, is the right instance.”

In some methods, Wentz’s fortunes parallel Rivera’s as each strive to emerge from two years of turbulence to reclaim a measure of stability and respectability.

“One 12 months you are right here, one 12 months you are there, and also you strive to have your sights set on [the] long run wherever you might be,” Wentz mentioned. “But God has totally different plans generally. I try to profit from it and simply preserve plugging alongside. … [We’ll be here] for, God prepared, hopefully a very long time.”

Defensive deal with Jonathan Allen is among the few gamers who has given the franchise stability since earlier than the Rivera period. He has at all times mentioned the group’s off-field troubles do not have an effect on his play, and though he understands they weigh on Rivera, he would not really feel as impacted.

“I get requested questions on [controversies], however I can at all times defer, and I can at all times transfer on,” he mentioned. “Coach [Rivera] would not have that potential. He has to reply, and he has to take these issues head-on, so when outdoors noise does occur, it does have an effect on him extra. But once I get criticized on Twitter or when [the media] deliver it to me, it is in a single ear, out the opposite. I do not care. I’m right here to play football.”

After observe, reporters requested Rivera football questions. How was Wentz? What about defensive finish Montez Sweat? How does rookie working back Brian Robinson Jr. match into the sport plan?

It was a welcome return to regular. Overall, Rivera mentioned, he appreciated to see his gamers so enthusiastic.

“The first day’s at all times enjoyable,” he mentioned. “Like I mentioned, optimism is excessive.”

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