Rivera’s concern lingered all through the season, nearly as if he had recognized upfront that Washington would face a stretch of poor well being (greater than two dozen gamers and eight coaches landed within the NFL’s coronavirus protocols) and private tragedy that will decimate any goodwill constructed from a spate of wins.
To date in 2022, a lot stays the identical — on paper. The Commanders turned to another veteran quarterback, discovered extra assist at broad receiver and operating again, fortified the offensive line and added younger items at tight finish and within the secondary. However they face questions at linebacker, questions on defensive position depth and naturally the unceasing query of whether or not it would all work this time.
Rivera’s confidence comes from the crew’s trials late within the 2021 season and the assumption that his gamers can take “large steps” in his third 12 months as their coach.
“The maturity degree, extra so than the rest, [shows] that these guys are prepared to simply accept the duty of all of it,” Rivera stated throughout a telephone interview from California this month. “… Final 12 months, going into this entire factor, my large concern was maturity. And having gone by way of what we went by way of … I simply type of really feel like this group of men is able to take a step.”
Rivera claims to not really feel any further stress going into Yr three.
“Not after the primary 12 months,” he stated. “After which not after what we went by way of final 12 months. You consider what we went by way of for 2 seasons, and also you say: ‘You understand what? No matter occurs, occurs.’ However so long as we work onerous, play onerous and provides our greatest effort, we’ll see what occurs. And we’ll let the chips fall the place they might.”
Final 12 months, the then-Washington Soccer Staff lost starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after simply 16 snaps due to a hip harm and turned to Taylor Heinicke the remainder of the way in which, save for the one recreation it began Garrett Gilbert as a result of Heinicke contracted the coronavirus. Washington misplaced six of its first eight video games, bounced again bounced again with 4 straight wins, then misplaced beginning defensive ends Montez Sweat and Young to accidents. It additionally misplaced most of its protection to coronavirus points; shared the ache of security Deshazor Everett, who was the motive force in a crash that killed his longtime girlfriend; and shared extra ache when Sweat’s brother was killed. Washington struggled to deal with all of it, as evidenced by the in-game fight between its two defensive tackles in a blowout at Dallas.
Rivera, although nonetheless irked by a perception that his gamers weren’t given sufficient credit score for overcoming uncommon circumstances, additionally believes these circumstances introduced his crew nearer — and should have set a tone for this season.
“We had a bunch of men undergo some real-life s—, and that was onerous,” he stated. “It was tough on quite a lot of guys, and for us, we’re nonetheless making an attempt to alter and develop who we’re and discover our guys, and we’ll preserve going by way of this course of. …
“As a result of we’re a younger crew and we’ve needed to play quite a lot of younger guys and we’ve needed to undergo loads … and we’re nonetheless standing — that offers me confidence.”
The arrogance comes, partially, from the ability place gamers the Commanders have added. It additionally comes from the potential of their protection and from the veterans they introduced in on the offensive line.
Prior to now, Rivera has cited his third 12 months with the Carolina Panthers in 2013 as purpose for optimism with the Commanders. After two dropping seasons in Charlotte, Rivera’s Panthers completed 12-Four in 2013 to win their division and completed second within the league in factors allowed and yards allowed. Drafting an all-pro quarterback, Cam Newton, forward of Yr 1 was the most important puzzle piece, however rounding out the road for defense and surrounding him with playmakers had been priorities.
These priorities adopted Rivera to Washington. This offseason, after trading for quarterback Carson Wentz — and taking over his $22 million totally assured wage — the Commanders signed veterans Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner to switch Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers. They drafted wide receiver Jahan Dotson within the first spherical, added a robust operating again in Brian Robinson Jr. within the third and located Cole Turner, a 6-foot-5 tight finish with a big catch radius, within the fifth. Then they welcomed again broad receiver Curtis Samuel from groin and hamstring accidents and re-signed star wideout Terry McLaurin, and so they hope to have tight finish Logan Thomas and Younger again from knee accidents quickly. (Thomas, Younger and middle Chase Roullier are more likely to start camp on the bodily unable to carry out record as they proceed to get better, however Samuel is anticipated to be good to go.)
“If we are able to keep wholesome with our offensive line, get Logan again quickly and a few of these younger guys at tight finish to develop, if Terry continues to be the participant that he’s and we get a wholesome Curtis, Dyami [Brown] grows a bit of bit, Cam [Sims] contributes the way in which we consider he can and Jahan is the participant we consider he might be, we really feel like we’ve acquired a very good ability set there,” Rivera stated. “The operating backs proceed to develop and be taught, and I just like the tandem of men we now have there. Then if Carson can exit and simply make good selections and let his athleticism play for him, I believe we might be any person to cope with.”
Rivera added that scheme and making certain the Commanders are getting the most effective out of their expertise are among the many most essential elements.
“Are we placing these guys in the most effective place to have success? It at all times goes again to that, too, and that’s the factor that we now have to be very cognizant about, as a result of we now have a very good group and we’ve acquired some expert gamers, however we simply don’t understand how good we might be but,” he stated.
Rivera stated having at the least 10 offensive linemen with appreciable expertise was essential, too, as a result of it helped the crew final 12 months, when accidents compelled it to cycle by way of 5 facilities. He additionally has stated maintaining core gamers resembling McLaurin, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and Thomas has lengthy been a precedence.
“We’ve discovered a very good variety of [core players],” Rivera stated. “I don’t assume we now have all of the items. … This coaching camp might be crucial for us to see the place a few of our gamers are. Have they developed? Have they gotten to the place they must be? Going into this, there have been quite a lot of query marks. We clearly needed to change quite a lot of our considering now that we now have Carson. My thought course of modified with it, about who we’re and who we might be.”
And, after all, including a quarterback whose ability set suits the scheme was a years-long precedence. Wentz might be beginning quarterback No. 7 for Washington since Rivera arrived in 2020. After being traded by the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts in successive offseasons, Wentz comes with loads of unknowns, together with whether or not he might help revive a franchise that has been within the doldrums for a lot of the previous twenty years.
Rivera, once more, has confidence.
“I do know lots of people don’t give us quite a lot of credit score for that or give us any hope for being any good this 12 months, which is okay,” he stated. “However we’re going to combat. We’re going to point out up and provides every little thing we’re.”