After waiting for his chance through his rookie year, Commanders quarterback Sam Howell is poised to make a jump in his second season.
The 2022 fifth-round pick sat for most of last season behind the pair of Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke. In his one appearance in Week 18 versus the Cowboys, Howell led Washington to a 26-6 upset win over its division rival, and the QB showed promise with his 11-for-19, 169-yard showing.
Now, with Heinicke set to be a free agent and the Commanders ready to move on from Wentz, head coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month that Howell would most likely be the QB1 as the Commanders entered the offseason, giving the 22-year-old the first shot at earning the regular-season starting role.
One of Howell's teammates, wide receiver Terry McLaurin, spoke Thursday after the introductory press conference for offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and said that he thinks Howell showed in his limited time that he was ready to be every-day starter, both with his play and his approach.
"His first start against the Cowboys was a great first step," McLaurin said. "I don't want to put the cart before the horse, but I think just the way he handled himself from a demeanor standpoint, the way he prepared throughout that entire week against a really good defense, and the way he handled himself even when he had adversity during the game was outstanding for a guy [making] his first start at the end of the year.
"I know he's working really hard, where he's training right now, to be ready for the springtime. And I know the receivers, we're excited to get ready to help him out."
Along with the backing of his teammates, Howell will have the support of a new offensive coordinator in Bieniemy, who left the Super Bowl Champion Chiefs to help rebuild the Commanders' offense, which ranked 24th in the league in 2022.
Howell said he hadn't gotten the chance to discuss football matters with his new OC yet, but that he was "super excited" to start working with Bieniemy and learn from his years of experience.
"I am a big fan of his, just listening to him talk here I'm super impressed with just the man he is," he said after the press conference, via The Washington Times' Matthew Paras. "Obviously, he comes from a team that's had a lot of success, especially on the offensive side of the ball, so I'm just excited to learn all that stuff and get started with him."
While Howell currently sits at the top of the QB depth chart, obviously a lot can change before the season kicks off in September. The Commanders could still make a move during free agency or the draft to bring in someone else to contend for the starting role. Recognizing the opportunity he's been given, Howell expressed that he won't become complacent, and his work "starts now" to lift Washington beyond its 8-8-1 2022 finish and prove that he can lead a team beyond the small sample size he's shown so far.
"I'm super grateful to coach Rivera for giving me that opportunity, but really the work starts now," Howell said. "I've got to take advantage of the opportunity that I do have and do everything I can to try and give this team a chance to win every single game that we play. And so really the process doesn't change, I've always tried to get better, but now with this opportunity, I've got to take advantage of it."