Commanders training camp: Emmanuel Forbes looks electric, Brian Robinson impressing


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ASHBURN, Va. — Some of you keen observers might have noticed certain off-the-field matters took center stage as Washington Commanders training camp opened this week. That’s led to jubilation in the area and gobs of fans showing up to watch practices despite more heat warnings than NBA Jam. Another ripple effect: a lack of practice observations. That changes … now.

Forbes off to a strong start

Hundreds of fans began lining up for Saturday’s practice at least two hours before the 9 a.m. start. Eventually, 10,000 arrived, according to a team official. Some sat in the new bleachers along the near sideline, while others packed standing-room-only spaces around half the field.

Minutes into practice, Emmanuel Forbes gave everyone a reason to rise.

Quarterback Sam Howell took a logical approach in 11-on-11 drills by eyeing star wide receiver Terry McLaurin to his left. The throw from the second-year passer, however, wasn’t sharp. Forbes, the cornerback Washington took with the 16th pick in April’s draft, showed why future opponents must think twice about targeting him often.

The NCAA record-holder for pick sixes (six) jumped the route, undercutting McLaurin. Forbes snagged the pass with ease and headed down the sideline. He slowed up since nobody was keeping score, but the moment revved upped the already amped fans while reminding everyone why this rookie is one to watch.

“He’s a young man that works hard,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s a very smart, diligent young man when it comes to learning and trying to learn. He’s got tremendous study habits.”

Forbes isn’t the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. But considering the value placed on interceptions, let alone any taken back to the house, his odds — +1600, tied for seventh and four times as long as the favorite, Texans pass rusher Will Anderson — look tempting.

There’s no such thing as perfect at a position where even ideal coverage might not be enough against spectacular receivers and passers. But based on his initial work, and his college resume, Forbes will force opponents into raising their game.

Excellent vision and anticipatory skills, along with good length, are part of the 6-foot-1 corner’s skill set. His confidence seems steady despite playing a humbling position and facing one of the league’s better wide receiver groups in practice.


‘Game changer’ Emmanuel Forbes brings Commanders fresh hope in wake of Chase Young news

Along with training, Forbes said his primary focus ahead of camp was “understanding his body more” with the help of assistant strength and conditioning/nutritionist Jake Sankal. He remains shockingly rail-thin, to be clear, but feels savvier with grasping his physical “strengths and weaknesses.” Listed at 173 pounds, Forbes said he wants to stay in the 170-180 range.

Facing McLaurin daily has challenged him to hone his technique. They will square off often, as coaches use Forbes outside opposite Kendall Fuller, with Benjamin St-Juste bouncing between playing slot and boundary corner.

“Terry knows and understands routes and stems. He knows how to use his eyes well,” Forbes said. “So, I would say he has a big catch radius, and he’s good at what he (does).”

They’ll say the same about Forbes if his camp habits translate when the games turn real.

“He does the things that he needs to do to put himself in position,” Rivera said. “He practices the way I believe he’s gonna play, and that’s hard and smart.”

“The biggest thing for me, I just don’t want to be one dimensional, and I don’t want to be just a power back,” said Washington’s leading rusher last season. “I want to be able to run routes, run down the field, catch the ball with soft hands, and continue to grow my game.”

That he’s around at all is a blessing after he was shot twice in the lower body, including his knee, shortly before the 2022 season started.

“It’s not a day that I wake up, and I’m not thankful and appreciative for everybody that was in my corner from when everything happened to this point,” the 2022 third-round pick said.

Robinson returned after missing the first four games but “never” felt right. That’s changed now. The 225-pounder remains rugged but is sneaky slithery on the ground, and his pass catching skills are legitimate.

“I expect to have a great camp,” Robinson said, “and I expect to roll into the season with all the momentum in the world just coming off a strong camp.”

WR position battle

The position room with the most roster uncertainty is … complicated because the answer connects to other spots. Write the names of the top four wide receivers in pen. When you get past McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown, let the guessing game begin.

Want maximum experience in new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s offense? Recently signed Byron Pringle caught seven touchdowns on 67 receptions with Kansas City from 2019 to 2021, including 42 grabs for 568 yards and five TDs in that final season.

Think they need size now that Cam Sims plays for the Raiders? Another ex-Chief, the 6-foot-4 Marcus Kemp, is the only veteran listed over 6-foot-1.

Returners factor in here. That’s why discounting holdover Dax Milne is unwise, even if his safe-but-not-even-occasionally-spectacular style has fans wanting more. Then again, Washington has several players practicing catching punts each morning of practice, including Dotson and undrafted free agents Kazmeir Allen and Mitchell Tinsley.

Speaking of UDFAs, Jalen Sample and Brycen Tremayne are long shots, but the 6-foot-4 targets have had their moments against fellow third and fourth stringers dating back to rookie camp and OTAs.

Say another position player returns kicks, as in 2022 with Antonio Gibson. What if instead of (or with) Gibson, it’s Jonathan Williams? That would mean keeping a fourth back, perhaps at the expense of a sixth wideout. Then again, Pringle and Kyric McGowan are among the receivers taking kick return reps.

None of this assessment includes broad special teams work. The best guesses earlier this year were Kemp and Milne, whose receiving skills are underrated (insert “Bill Belichick is waiting patiently” joke here). Now, it might be Milne and Pringle, which might leave tight end Cole Turner as the big outside target on offense. Then again, the slippery Allen is back on the radar after missing minicamp with a hamstring injury. If keeping six receivers costs Williams a roster spot, that’s not ideal — and perhaps not a worry since Washington can stash some depth receivers on the practice squad.

Hang tight before declaring roster winners, but it’s a fun watch.


• Morning practices didn’t spare the Commanders from the heat wave across the region. Rivera noticed the impact on attention and focus late in Saturday’s practice, citing an offside, blown coverages and errors on routes.

“That’s what our guys have to understand is you gotta build this callousness, this toughness to fatigue and the heat,” Rivera said. “And coming out here, that’s where the fan base is important because now they get excited, they start cheering, the guys can get themselves refocused.”

The lack of focus affected the offense overall, and Howell and Jacoby Brissett both had their issues Saturday, capping a bumpy first week. We’ll dig into that more on Monday.

• The defensive line remains the team’s position of strength. With Chase Young displaying a bouncy presence off the edge combined with fellow defensive end Montez Sweat’s athletic freakiness and the interior power of Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, let’s get to the preseason already. Defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis joined the starters in five-man fronts in practice.



The Commanders, basking in good tidings, can also dream of a healed and hungry Chase Young

• Del Rio is mixing and matching with the linebacker rotation, but Jamin Davis and Cody Barton remain the expected starters, backed up by Khaleke Hudson and David Mayo.

• Gates limped off the field late in practice with an ankle tweak but later joined teammates for O-line drills and, after practice, said he was fine. The ex-Giant missed significant time after suffering a broken left tibia and fibula in 2021, and Washington used four centers in each of the past two seasons because of various injuries.

Knock on wood, but the Commanders remain healthy entering the second week of camp.

• Second-round defensive back Quan Martin is having a quiet start to camp. Perhaps that’s in part because we’re not seeing him where most expected. Rather than lining up in slot, he’s mainly being deployed at second-team safety. Rachad Wildgoose, for now, is the other slot option when St-Juste, one of the camp’s top performers, moves outside.

Martin sported a wrap on his lower right leg Saturday, but there is no sense of any injury concern.

• Next week with pads will be a big test for an unsettled offensive line. Saahdiq Charles hasn’t won the starting left guard spot yet, but he’s got the lead over Chris Paul. Fourth-round pick Braeden Daniels spent time at guard and tackle.

• Kickers Joey Slye and Michael Badgley each went 4 of 4 in practice with a 51-yarder. The team encouraged the crowd to get loud during this stretch for some game-like atmosphere.

(Photo: Geoff Burke / USA Today) 

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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