ASHBURN, Va. — Sam Howell wanted no part of being featured in “Quarterback,” the docuseries that profiled Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins and Marcus Mariota.
He didn’t need the distraction clouding his focus.
Plus, the spotlight is already shining plenty bright on Howell as he tries to become the Washington Commanders starting quarterback.
Howell is getting that chance in training camp to show coach Ron Rivera and new ownership he deserves to be the guy for a franchise that has had 12 different quarterbacks throw a pass since 2018.
“It’s a great opportunity for me with the position I’m in to really compete here and be the starter,” Howell said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to go out there and just show what I can do.”
A 2022 fifth-round pick out of North Carolina, Howell spent most of his rookie year as the third-stringer before showing glimpses of what he can do in his NFL debut in Washington’s regular-season finale, throwing and running for a touchdown to beat playoff-bound Dallas.
Even though the Commanders were out of contention then – eliminated after previous starter Carson Wentz threw three interceptions in a loss to Cleveland – that performance was enough to warrant Ron Rivera giving Howell the nod going into the spring. The team added journeyman Jacoby Brissett as a reliable veteran backup who could provide some training camp competition.
But there’s no doubt this is Howell’s job to lose. He has so far taken all the snaps with the first team, with mixed results, as he assimilates to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s system.
“This is all the growth and development opportunity,” Rivera said Wednesday. “This is a chance to learn the base fundamentals of our offense.”
Howell has been trying to learn along the way. In his down time away from the facility, the 22-year-old has done mental walkthroughs to familiarize himself with the playbook and feels as if he has made significant progress over the past few months.
“I think at this point I have total command of the offense,” Howell said. “I studied a lot this summer and (have been) trying to get really comfortable with the system.”
Top receiver Terry McLaurin acknowledged Howell has a lot on his plate to get up to speed with Bieniemy’s offense after just one game of professional experience. That one game did reveal a positive trait: Howell’s ability to shake off throwing an interception, which has continued in camp.
“He still wasn’t afraid to push the ball down the field, and I think with this being a passing league you still got to stay aggressive,” McLaurin said. “You really don’t even see him get flustered even when he’s had a few, maybe, rough patches during practice. He doesn’t hang his head. He’s not yelling, cussing – things like that. He’s pretty even keel, which is really unique for a young guy like that.”
That has come with experience. Howell went into his final college season as a projected top-10 pick before concerns about his size and mechanics hurt his stock. The Commanders were all too happy to take him with the 144th pick last year as a developmental prospect.
Now he’s counseling UNC successor Drake Maye based on his experience, while Rivera wants to move past where Howell was drafted and evaluate based on what happens on the field.
“It’s all about what the player does,” Rivera said. ”And the proof will be in the pudding.”
Barring injury or a complete preseason meltdown, it’s a smart bet that Howell will be under center for the season opener Sept. 10 against Arizona – Washington’s seventh different Week 1 QB in as many years. With that in mind, and fully knowing Brissett could step in at any time, Howell is balancing humility and confidence while trying to win the No. 1 job.
“It’s definitely a blessing for me (have) this opportunity, and it’s definitely not something that I take for granted,” Howell said. “There’s a lot of work left to be done. I’m not complacent at all. I know still everything is ahead of me, and I still got to go out there and earn it and prove it each and every day.”
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