Training camp has arrived for the Washington Football Team after months of anticipation.
This year's version of camp is unlike any other the players or coaches have experienced in their careers. Rather than spending August in Richmond, Virginia, head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the team are at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn.
There are also new measures in place to keep the team safe while practicing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans will not be allowed to attend practices like in previous years, but they will still be paying close attention to the team as it prepares for the 2020 campaign.
Here are the top storylines for Washington fans to follow during training camp:
1. Entering A New (Riv)era
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it especially difficult for new coaches like Rivera, who has been Washington's head coach since New Year's Day and has yet to hold a single practice.
But if anyone is equipped to handle this unprecedented situation, it's him.
Rivera's head coaching career began months before the NFL lockout in 2011. So, not only did he inherit the 2-14 Carolina Panthers, but he was not able to address his team for the first time until training camp in late July. There was also the challenge of developing quarterback Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in that year's draft.
Rivera's squad struggled at first but hit its stride towards the end of the season, winning four of its final six games behind Newton, who ended up winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Rivera faces a similar situation in Washington, which has a slew of young talent to build around and develop. And despite an unprecedented set of circumstances, Rivera intends to capitalize on every opportunity.
"It comes down to being disciplined as a group and as an organization and as individuals," Rivera told the media Tuesday when asked about the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. "You have to be disciplined to understand that you can't go out and not follow the protocols. You have to wear a mask. You have to wash your hands. You have to properly distance yourself from one another."
2. New Coaching Staff Takes The Field
Rivera is far from the only coach that is new to the nation's capital.
Jack Del Rio will aim to replicate the immediate success he had in Carolina and Denver, when his defenses were some of the best in the NFL, while Scott Turner, the son of offensive guru Norv Turner, will lead his own attack for the first time. There's also quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, defensive line coach Sam Mills III and defensive backs coach Chris Harris, all of whom will oversee crucial position groups.
The lack of in-person offseason workouts will likely lead to a steeper learning curve during training camp, but at least the majority of the coaches know exactly what Rivera wants and expects. (Of the 20 assistant coaches, 12 of them were on his staff at some point during his time in Carolina.)
Rivera said he will not rely more on his assistant coaches than in past years, but he did stress the importance of "doing a little extra" on the practice field and in the meeting room to help expedite the development of their younger players. Expect that to be a theme throughout training camp.
3. Year 2 For Dwayne Haskins Jr.
And if Alex Smith returns to the field within the next few weeks -- Washington placed him on the Physically Unable To Perform list after his surgical team cleared him for football activity -- Rivera said he'll be "part of our equation" as well.
But to start training camp, all the attention will be on Haskins, the 15th overall pick in 2019 and the perceived future of the franchise under center.
He took over as the starter last season, and according to the coaching staff, has done everything this offseason to prove he's ready to lead the offense.
He transformed his body and worked out with countless receivers, including several of his teammates. During virtual meetings, Turner lauded his comprehension of the new offense.
Washington is looking for Haskins to take it to new heights, and Haskins is ready for the challenge.
"I'm going to deliver, it's never a question about that. I don't even care about that stuff, honestly," Haskins said in June. "Biggest thing for me is to be prepared mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I'm looking forward to being a great leader for this football team this year."
4. Rookies Audition For Immediate Roles
Rivera has repeatedly said he is not afraid to play young players, and there are several rookies that could contribute right away if they perform well during training camp.
In addition to No. 2 overall pick Chase Young, running back Antonio Gibson, wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden and tackle Saahdiq Charles will all be competing for significant playing time. Even tight end Thaddeus Moss, who Washington signed as a college free agent, could be in the mix for a starting role.
During a typical season, these players would have already had a chance to showcase their skillset at the professional level. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be their first audition in front of Washington's coaching staff. How they fare will certainly affect the depth chart heading into the regular season opener Sept. 13.
5. Positional Clarity
Rivera did not shy away from the questions facing this team with about six weeks until the start of the 2020 campaign.
"What is our combination going to be at running back? What is our combination at receiver? Defensive line shape? How is our offensive line shaping up? There are so many questions that haven't been answered or we haven't even started on yet. To me the only advantage that we have is that we are a mystery."
Fortunately, the opening portion of training camp is similar to the offseason workouts Washington missed, followed by a four-day "ramp-up" period and a maximum of 14 padded practices. A lack of preseason hurts, Rivera admitted, but it will be up to the coaching staff to create as many game-like situations in practice as possible.
"The 'ramp-up' period was a heck of an idea," Rivera said. "I think if we do things right and we take advantage of the way the rules are lined up for us, we can get something out of those. ... Again, it's a matter of whether or not you take advantage of the opportunity to get your guys ready to go, ramp them up properly and then get them on the field."