Commanders begin rookie minicamp with new vibes from top to bottom


If anything, the Commanders’ rookie class of 2023 received an introduction like no other in recent years.

Less than an hour after the team’s drafted rookies, signed college free agents and tryout players walked off the practice field in Ashburn, news broke of an exclusive agreement between Daniel Snyder and a group led by Josh Harris to purchase the Commanders.

The rookies could begin their careers with Harris as their owner should the agreement be ratified before the regular season.

But to get there, they have to make it through a grueling couple of days of practice, followed by the continuation of organized team activities with veteran players next week.

After hiring Eric Bieniemy as its offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Washington not only restructured its offensive coaching staff (the team hasn’t announced new titles yet) but also revised its day-to-day operations. Bieniemy brought over some things from his time with the Kansas City Chiefs working under Coach Andy Reid.

“I’d been in the same system doing things a specific way, and I felt the shake-up is good and it’s good for me as well,” Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said. “It is a whole different approach. One of the things that [Bieniemy] did differently, and I think that he adapted a little bit of what they had done in Kansas City under Andy … [was] we [changed] the way the offensive coaching staff is going to be structured. We’ve moved some guys around over a couple of positions so they can help the younger coaches that we’ve elevated as well. And a big part of it is, for EB, it gives him channels of communication.”

Bieniemy also has the staff on a different regimen. Offensive coaches start their days at 7 a.m. and “go through everything,” Rivera said.

The Commanders turned up the intensity at rookie camp on purpose: They want to see how the prospects handle an overload of information. How quickly do they grasp the system? How well can they apply the classroom teachings to the field?

“Hopefully it’ll be one of those things that the guys, their retention is very good,” Rivera said. “They’ll be able to re-adapt and assimilate to how we’re doing it.”

First-round pick Emmanuel Forbes, whom the team listed at 173 pounds, wasted little time in getting his first interception of practice. The former Mississippi State cornerback picked off Tim DeMorat, a free agent signing out of Fordham, on a pass intended for wide receiver Kyric McGowan during seven-on-seven drills. Forbes later broke up a pass during 11-on-11 action.

The Commanders invited 35 players to try out during rookie camp — another offseason change in which Bieniemy had a hand.

“Well, what we wanted to do was we wanted to have basically two full units, offensive and defensive,” Rivera said. “ … We felt being able to get a lot of work for the coaches as well was going be important, and it was also one of the things that Eric really felt strongly about doing.”

One tryout player who made an impression was Jadakis Bonds, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver from Hampton University. Bonds pulled in a catch in tight coverage on a deep ball and used his size to create separation. He could be a candidate to fill the void left by Cam Sims, who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency.

And, yes, he was named after the rapper “Jadakiss.”

“My aunt actually named me that,” Bonds said.

Bonds was one of five tryout players from historically Black colleges and universities. A sixth, former Bowie State defensive end Joshua Pryor, signed as a college free agent.

“If you can play, they’re going to find you,” Bonds said. “ … We were able to come out here and showcase our HBCU talent and show what HBCUs can do.”

One college free agent to follow: Kazmeir Allen, a wide receiver/returner out of UCLA. Allen played multiple positions in UCLA’s offense and returned punts and kickoffs.

“He’s a young man that most certainly has gotten our attention, and he’s a young guy that we went out and tried to make sure we were able to recruit and bring him in as a free agent,” Rivera said.

Rivera had a tempered reaction to the Commanders’ 2023 schedule, which includes a Week 14 bye, only one prime-time game and a Thanksgiving game in Dallas. The holiday meeting will be the Commanders’ 11th all-time, and their first since they beat the Cowboys, 41-16, in 2020.

“It’s all right,” Rivera said of the schedule. “It’ll be fun to have the Thanksgiving game again. That’s kind of cool, and other than that I wish the bye might have been a little bit sooner, but again, we’ll take it where it is.”

Three of the Commanders’ draft picks — fifth-round defensive end K.J. Henry, sixth-round running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. and seventh-round defensive end Andre Jones — signed their rookie contracts Friday. All 12 of the team’s undrafted free agents also passed their physicals and signed their contracts.

Second-round safety Quan Martin was excused for rookie minicamp to tend to a family matter. He is expected to join the team for the next phase of OTAs.

The Commanders released wide receiver Alex Erickson and linebacker Drew White to get to 90 players on their roster.

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