Washington Commanders starting quarterback Sam Howell

John KeimESPN staff writerAugust 18, 2023, 8:45 AM ET3 minutes of reading

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Ashburn, Va. — Sam Howell will start the season opener at quarterback for the Washington Commanders, coach Ron Rivera said Friday, ending a one-sided competition for the job.

Howell has only worked with the starters since spring practices began. He has taken all but several reps with the starters; Jacoby Brissett, an offseason signing, took his place for a few snaps before the season opener against the Cleveland Browns.

Washington hosts the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 10 in the season opener.

It’s been known for a long time that this will cost Howell his job — and he’s done nothing to lose his grip. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. A source said his performance on the first day of the two-day joint practice session against the Baltimore Ravens was “really, really good.” He wasn’t as sharp on the second day, but the commanders still liked what they saw.

Rivera indicated last week that this was an important week for Howell in gauging his development. After the second day, when asked what Howell needed to do to be named the starter, Rivera said, “Just keep doing what he’s shown.”

Commanders liked his decisiveness — especially when making strides and finding an open target — and his improved footwork on both pass drops and handoffs. They want him to make decisions. They say other aspects of his game, such as being better in the red zone, can be developed with more experience.

“I’m very happy with his decision; that’s a big plus,” Rivera said Wednesday.

Washington drafted Howell in the fifth round in 2022, though a team source said before the draft that the Generals would have targeted him in the second or third round had they not traded for Carson Wentz before that season. When Howell, who started all three years at North Carolina, was in his fifth year, they made the jump.

He served as the No. 3 quarterback behind Wentz and Taylor Heinicke at the start of the season. But when Wentz broke a finger in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears, Howell was promoted to primary backup. That gave him more work in practice against the scout team. He remained in that role until Wentz returned in Week 15.

However, when Washington was eliminated from playoff contention two weeks later, it started for Howell in the season finale. In a 26-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys, who played the starters, Howell completed 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for a score. They said they liked how Rivera handled his start, from his decision-making to his ability to self-correct any mistakes.

At the start of the season, Howell entered spring workouts at No. 1 will step in as the quarterback, Rivera said, but he still has to earn the job. The Chiefs eventually cut Wentz and lost Heinicke to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency.

Rivera has repeatedly said, “Don’t sleep on Jacoby.” But Howell played well and a real battle never happened.

“Jacoby did some good things, so we feel a lot more comfortable about the quarterback room right now,” Rivera said.

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