Jacoby Brissett and Sam Howell both have a shot to start for the Commanders


Though the starting quarterback job is clearly Sam Howell’s to lose — he has taken all the first-team reps during offseason workouts — Washington Commanders Coach Ron Rivera maintained Tuesday that he still views the position as a competition between Howell and veteran Jacoby Brissett.

“Just because I said he’s going to start off as QB1 doesn’t mean he’s going to finish as QB1,” Rivera said of Howell, adding: “Jacoby has shown us some things that have really gotten people’s attention. We talk about Jacoby almost as much as we talk about Sam. So I just think as we go through this process, and until we play games, it’d be unfair to start making assessments.”

Will Brissett get first-team reps during minicamp or training camp?

“Well, that’ll be something that we’ll sit down and talk about once we finish up [offseason workouts],” Rivera said.

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Come September, Howell will probably start. He is 22, dynamic and promising, with a higher ceiling (and lower floor) than Brissett, whose greatest strength, at 30, is his steady and solid, if unspectacular, play. Even if Brissett outplays Howell during training camp, even if the coaching staff believes the team would be better right away with Brissett, they still may opt to start Howell because of his potential. It’d be easier for Rivera to sell a new owner on his vision beyond 2023 if it’s headlined by an ascendant young quarterback rather than a journeyman on a one-year deal.

Yet odds are Brissett will play this year. The last time Washington started only one quarterback all season was 2017, and a fitting summation of Brissett’s career would be “the replacement.” In seven years, he’s appeared in 76 games (48 starts) nearly exclusively because the starters were suspended (Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson) or injured (Andrew Luck, Tua Tagovailoa, Jimmy Garoppolo).

Perhaps because of those experiences, Brissett insisted he too sees the starting quarterback job as a legitimate competition.

“Anybody that steps on that field, we’re all in competition,” he said, adding, “That’s what it is every day in this league.”

In offseason workouts, Brissett has been uneven. Sometimes he lofts effortless touch passes through tight windows, and other times he looks indecisive, like he doesn’t have as large a mental advantage over Howell in learning the new scheme as might have been expected given his experience. Both quarterbacks have held the ball longer than normal in 11-on-11 periods.

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So far, Brissett has mostly worked with green backups. Few of the second-string linemen have extensive experience, and his receiving options are often undrafted free agents or young role players, such as Dax Milne and Marcus Kemp. Brissett may have played more snaps in his NFL career (3,320) than all the skill players he’s worked with combined.

If Brissett had to start a game tomorrow, the question would not be how quickly the Commanders’ top skill players could sync up with him — they’ve cycled through quarterbacks before — but how quickly Brissett could sync up with them. So would it be important to Brissett to get first-team reps at some point before the season?

“We’ll cross that bridge when we cross that bridge,” he said. “I’ve been in this league a while, and I know how, at the drop of a hat, how fast this league can turn. Just being ready to go has always been my mind-set and has served me well this far, so it will still.”

Last season, Brissett’s passing statistics were nearly identical to former Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s. The biggest differences were in off-target throws and turnover-worthy plays, which Pro Football Focus charted. Brissett threw off-target far less often than Heinicke (10.6 percent to 15.8 percent) and yielded nearly half as many turnover-worthy plays (3.1 percent to 6.3 percent). Brissett won’t make many explosive plays, but he won’t give the ball away, either.

The veteran, who’s not known as a runner, also excelled at picking his spots to take off. His rate of rushes that went for first downs or touchdowns was 57.1 percent, best among all qualified quarterbacks in the NFL.

Two things that have stood out to Rivera: Ball placement and mentorship.

“He understands leverages, so he’s throwing away from where the defenders are,” the coach said. “You also see him again working with the younger guys, talking to them — not just the quarterbacks, but the positional guys. [He’s] talking to the young receivers about how to run around, how to turn and come back to the ball, stuff like that.”

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In March at the league meetings, Cleveland Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski, who coached Brissett last season, gushed about him as a quarterback and teammate, calling him a “quintessential pro’s pro.” Washington quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard and Howell have since echoed those sentiments.

“Jacoby’s awesome,” Howell said. “Me and him have become really good friends. … He’s been through so much in his career. He’s seen a lot. He spent some time with a lot of different teams. He was in New England for a long time with [Tom] Brady, and so he just has so many stories and so much insight that he can share. He’s been great to have here.”

Brissett, who’s juggled competition and mentorship before, said Howell has made it easy.

“[He’s] been a joy to be around,” Brissett said. “I know that makes me sound old, but he’s been really good to be around. [We’re] learning from each other, [and] competing against each other has just been a lot of fun.”

For now, Washington is all in on the young gun. But if he gets hurt or loses the coaching staff’s confidence, the veteran could do what he’s always done and step in.

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