Commanders’ preseason opener: Glimpses of changes on defense, rookie RB

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The Washington Commanders lost 23-21 to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason opener, but upon closer inspection, the game revealed a few notable developments, including an emerging plan on defense, what a healthy Curtis Samuel could do for the offense and one big change by offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

Scott Turner: New spot, similar scheme

Despite having a new quarterback, many parts of offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme looked familiar. In three series with the first team, he used high rates of play action and pre-snap motion to create some easy throws. Last season, Washington was among the league leaders in both categories.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Turner was location. For the first two years as coordinator, he called plays from the booth. On Saturday, he called them from the sidelines. After the game, on his way out of the locker room, Turner explained he made the switch “just for communication.”

Rivera complimented Turner and quarterback Carson Wentz for finding a good rhythm.

Carson Wentz makes Commanders debut, Sam Howell shines in loss to Panthers

“You can almost see Carson anticipating … the call, step right into the huddle and really just take command of it, spit it out, and then get to the line,” Rivera said. “You know, we weren’t close to delay of games, we weren’t running out of play clock time and that told me that we had a really good day.”

Defensive personnel coming into focus

Despite two key players sitting with injuries — cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (hamstring) and defensive end Chase Young (ACL) — the three series of first-team defense hinted at how coaches plan to fill the two positions without locked-in starters.

In the slot, Washington used corner Danny Johnson at nickel, though when St-Juste is healthy, he’ll likely start over Johnson. In the big nickel subpackage, Kam Curl slid from safety to slot and second-year safety Darrick Forrest replaced him. Forrest seems to have the edge on rookie safety Percy Butler for the role.

“The one thing about Darrick that you like is that he is a high-impact guy,” Rivera said. “He runs around. He runs into things. He is physical by nature, and he’s got tremendous athleticism.”

The end who replaced Young opposite Montez Sweat was James Smith-Williams. The team appears to like Efe Obada and Casey Toohill as the second set of ends.

A glimpse of healthy Curtis Samuel

In his first preseason game, receiver Curtis Samuel had two catches for 14 yards — about half of the entire output from his injury-plagued last season (six catches, 27 yards). But numbers belie Samuel’s true impact. Turner seemed to use him in motion more than any other receiver, perhaps trying to force the defense to account for Samuel’s versatility and explosiveness.

If Samuel can remain healthy — Rivera said the team continues to follow the plan to get him back in shape — then he could become the elusive, yards-after-catch weapon the offense lacked last year. Turner hinted at it by calling a screen to him on the second play of the game.

“I’ve seen it in camp,” Wentz said….

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