Commanders training camp is getting contentious — and that’s not all bad


Eric Bieniemy screamed from the back of the end zone as the play died. It was early in the Commanders’ 2 1/2-hour practice on Friday, and second-year defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis jumped early at the snap in a team drill. Center Nick Gates spiked the ball in his direction, setting off Bieniemy.

“We don’t do that s—,” the offensive coordinator yelled at Gates. “Get off the field.”

But the Commanders did plenty of that Friday, turning their ninth training camp practice into a contentious workout with at least two fights and plenty of pointed banter.

Chase Young’s trash talk from the sideline reverberated throughout the workout, and one-on-ones between linemen only fueled their competitive fire.

Toward the end of the workout, guard Sam Cosmi slammed Mathis to the ground during team drills, eliciting words between the offense and defense.

“We work hard, do our stuff, but at the same time, we’re not going to take [anything] from anyone,” Cosmi said afterward.

On the next play, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste popped tight end Cole Turner after a short pass, sending Turner to the ground. St-Juste stood over him and declined to help him up. Veteran receiver Terry McLaurin, a team captain, sprinted over and ripped into St-Juste, telling him he shouldn’t do that to a teammate. Bieniemy belted from the sideline: “Stop doing dumb s— and do your f—— job!”

McLaurin jogged back to the line of scrimmage while saying, “Can’t do that … to your own teammate, bro.”

Coach Ron Rivera said afterward: “Chase Young said it best. He said, ‘When Terry starts talking, you know it’s serious.’ And Terry was right. This is about your teammates.”

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Rivera huddled his players for several minutes after the workout concluded and reminded them of the line between playing with aggression and playing with respect. He later told reporters that, though coaches don’t encourage the behavior, he would’ve been “disappointed” had practice not been a bit contentious.

“I really expected it to be that way,” Rivera added. “It’s our ninth practice, our fifth one in a row, and [we’re] a little sour right now,” Rivera said. “… We lost our poise for a little bit. A little immaturity showed, and we got to learn to handle that.”

Multiple players said the skirmishes were side effects of camp and the competitive nature of football.

“It’s not personal to any of my teammates. I’m just playing. I’m in the middle of the fire, and I just made a play,” St-Juste said. “… Terry’s a good captain, a good veteran, to come over and say we don’t usually do that to our own teammates, and I respect that. … But at the same time, that’s also the same fire that brings the team together, that creates the competitive aspect that we’re going to need throughout the season.”

As frustrations mounted, so did the injuries.

Rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes came up hobbling after a seven-on-seven rep in coverage against McLaurin late in practice. He limped to the sideline, and trainers examined him briefly before wrapping an ice pack around his upper left leg. Forbes stayed on the sideline for the remainder of practice and said afterward he’s “all right” and his injury “was nothing.” Rivera said Forbes “tweaked his groin” and will be reevaluated.

“They don’t expect it to be anything that should be keeping him out,” Rivera added. “He should be able to play this week … but we’ll let you guys know a little more on Sunday.”

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Veteran tight end Logan Thomas did not practice because of a calf strain, and the team kept him off the field “out of an abundance of caution,” Rivera said. Fellow tight end Curtis Hodges walked off the field Friday with an athletic trainer during the early portion of practice because of soreness in his upper hamstring and glute area. He later returned to the sideline but didn’t resume practice.

Guard Saahdiq Charles is also dealing with a calf strain and has not practiced fully since Monday. Linebacker Cody Barton is dealing with a hip flexor issue, Rivera said. And Thursday evening, the team placed defensive tackle David Bada on injured reserve because of a torn triceps.

“Being the ninth practice, and with the amount of load these guys have got, the risk of injury starts to increase, so as soon as we started to feel something, we shut guys down,” Rivera said.

The Commanders are off Saturday and return to camp Sunday in the lead-up to their first preseason game Friday in Cleveland.

For Commanders’ defense, confidence is great. Maturity is even better.

The chance to face an outside opponent should provide a clearer measure of the offense’s growth. The unit has often struggled against the defense during full-speed team drills, but context is needed. The Commanders’ defense has played in the same system, with tweaks, since 2020, and multiple veteran players are well-versed in the scheme. The offense is adjusting to Bieniemy’s West Coast system and has a new interior line and new quarterback.

And the team has yet to game plan.

“I would expect [the defense] to be slightly ahead, and if not, I’d be a little disappointed in our defense and be real thrilled about the offense,” Rivera said. “The offense is where it needs to be in terms of its growth and development. I think the amount of stuff that they’ve installed, the inventory of the offenses they’ve put in is a lot. So you’re going to have some mistakes that are going to be made.”

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