Commanders name Sam Howell starting quarterback for 2023 season

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera realized putting off the obvious was futile.

The club officially named second-year quarterback Sam Howell its Week 1 starter on Friday.

"Sam's our guy," Rivera said told reporters, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post. "I'm very confident and comfortable saying he's our starter."

Rivera noted that he wanted to wait until after joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens to name Howell the starter. The news comes after Rivera declined to name Howell the starter earlier in the week, saying at the time he needed to discuss it with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and QB coach Tavita Pritchard.

"I think after the first practice against Baltimore, that was kind of the high-water mark for me in terms of having to see him show us that he is capable of doing the things that we need him to do," Rivera said on Friday, via The Post. "It was a very good day. There were a lot of positive things that came out of it and watching the tape. … I kept thinking to myself, 'That's what I wanted to see.' "

Howell told reporters later Friday that "it means a lot" to open the season as QB1.

"All my work is ahead of me; this is only the beginning," Howell said, per ESPN.com's John Keim. "I have a lot of work in front of me."

The news culminates months of Rivera praising Howell's progress but keeping the door open that the Commanders could go with veteran Jacoby Brissett under center.

Howell entered the offseason with the lead for the QB1 gig. It was the former Tar Heel's job to lose. He didn't stumble.

"I wanted to let Jacoby know that this wasn't about what he didn't do," Rivera explained. "This was about what Sam did."

The second-year quarterback impressed the club this offseason with his decision-making, improvement getting through his reads and overall play. Howell's athleticism gives the Commanders' offense more diversity and allows the QB to escape the pocket when protection breaks down.

The 2022 fifth-round pick isn't a polished product, but he displays upside with a good arm and fearlessness targeting receivers downfield.

It's no surprise Rivera handed the Week 1 gig against the Arizona Cardinals to Howell (the sixth straight season-opener that will see Washington start a different QB). The real intrigue moving forward is how the young QB responds and how long a leash the coaching staff will give him if he struggles early.

As a rookie, Howell started a single game -- Week 18 versus Dallas. He looked solid in that outing, bouncing back from a red-zone pick and sporting a beautiful deep ball to Terry McLaurin. But let's not confuse it with 2017 Patrick Mahomes against the Broncos.

The lack of game reps will be a question the young signal-caller must answer early in the season. How does he respond after defenses adjust to his tendencies when more film is available? How does he bounce back after a poor outing?

The Commanders sport an underrated roster that could compete in the NFC if the QB position becomes a net-positive.

Rivera and the staff believe Howell gives them the best chance to succeed in a pivotal season. If the 22-year-old stubs his toe, Brissett will be waiting.

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