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4 key storylines to watch in Washington Commanders’ second preseason game

Matt Johnson

The Washington Commanders return to the field on Saturday for their second preseason game. Coming off a close defeat to the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, this upcoming matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs is all about player performance.

It’s understandable why there is a bigger spotlight on this game than in some other preseason contests. Between the buzz surrounding rookie Sam Howell, the alarming reports this week on running back Antonio Gibson and the other news and notes from training camp, there is so much to monitor.

Saturday’s matchup on NFL Network is also unique. Kansas City and Washington both play starters during the preseason, so we’ll get an even better look at some of the most important players on this roster.

Related: Former Washington Commanders trainer agrees to deal on federal drug charges

Let’s dive into five key storylines we’re monitoring for the Commanders vs Chiefs game.

Uncertainty surrounding Antonio Gibson

NFL: Washington Commanders Training Camp
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Gibson performed like a featured running back in 2021, delivering his first 1,000-yard season and racking up 10 total touchdowns. It left many with confidence that behind an improved offensive line and when supported by more consistent quarterback play, he could take the next step forward in 2022.

Related: Week 1 fantasy football rankings

All of that optimism is gone. Gibson just spent a portion of this week practicing with the third-team offense and he received reps on special teams. That’s not what teams normally do with a player who racked up 300 touches the previous season.

Keep in mind that Brian Robinson Jr. is the standout running back at Commanders’ training camp this year. He’s going to be the short-yardage back and J.D. McKissic will handle the role of the pass-catching back. There is tremendous uncertainty regarding Gibson’s role right now. If he fumbles with the first-team offense or is on the field with backups, it’s a terrible sign for his future in Washington.

Jamin Davis could be the key to defensive turnaround

NFL: Washington Commanders Minicamp
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve covered the regression by Washington’s defense from 2020 to ’21. It’s definitely an area of concern, especially because the defensive play-caller remains in place and Chase Young is out. However, second-year linebacker Jamin Davis could prove crucial to a potential turnaround.

“I think (Jamin) is playing with more certainty and more confidence. He’s locked in, and mentally, he really understands where he belongs, and he is able to come to life. … He is having a strong camp for us.”

Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio on linebacker Jamin Davis

Ben Standig of The Athletic has covered Commanders’ training camp in great detail this summer and Davis is one of the team’s standouts. After looking tentative for a majority of his rookie season, the 2021 first-round pick is now playing like someone who knows what he’s doing. For a defense that made a ton of mental mistakes last season, that could be huge. Keep an eye on him against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Carson Wentz looks to build off a steady debut

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Commanders
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve covered in extensive detail how much quarterback Carson Wentz has struggled this summer during practices. It put an unusual amount of pressure on the veteran signal-caller to perform in his preseason debut. Credit to Wentz, he delivered.

Related: Washington Commanders schedule

Against the Carolina Panthers, Wentz completed 10-of-13 attempts and finished with an 89.9 quarterback rating with a 70.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. It wasn’t anything that would leave anyone proclaiming he’ll be an MVP candidate, but Washington just needs stability. In this second preseason matchup, monitor Wentz to see if he can avoid the dumbfounding mistakes and delivers a few more ‘wow’ plays. If that happens, Washington should feel very good about its quarterback situation.

Sam Howell eyes a potential QB competition

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll start with the most important thing. Sam Howell is not replacing Wentz as the starting quarterback unless there is an injury or a career-altering and catastrophic collapse by Wentz. Instead, the focus here is on Howell challenging Taylor Heinicke for the backup gig.

Related: 3 reasons why Washington Commanders should pursue Kareem Hunt

Howell’s performance in his NFL debut received mixed reviews. The boxscore and some first-hand looks came away impressed, but he received an alarmingly low passing grade from PFF. We need to see more evidence and this matchup will provide that opportunity. If Howell can build upon the work that earned him a few first-team reps in practice, he just might have a shot to unseat Heinicke as the backup.