McLaurin may finally have true help at WR — and he's noticing it


ASHBURN, VA. -- Terry McLaurin has experienced plenty of success through his first three NFL seasons, evident by his back-to-back- 1,000-yard campaigns and the three-year, $71 million extension he signed with the Washington Commanders earlier this month. But as good as No. 17 has been for the Burgundy and Gold, he's received little help from his fellow wideouts.

In 2022, that should no longer be the case.

Washington drafted Jahan Dotson, a polished product from Penn State with an incredible catch radius, in the first round of April's NFL Draft. Curtis Samuel, McLaurin's teammate at Ohio State and a prized free agent signing two March's ago, is back healthy after an injury-riddled 2021 campaign. The rest of the room is filled with versatile depth pieces, filling what should be the most talented wide receiver corps of McLaurin's Commanders tenure.

"I think it was definitely an emphasis to have as many weapons on our offense as possible," McLaurin said following practice on Thursday. "And, when you have a lot of versatile guys like we have young nucleus guys who are hungry, but humble, I think it's really cool to be a part of a group like that."

Since taking over as head coach in 2020, Ron Rivera has craved positional versatility on his roster. Between McLaurin, Dotson and Samuel, the Commanders have a trio of players who each can play all three receiver positions. That versatility should allow offensive coordinator  Scott Turner to get creative, but also lead to more production from the position than the franchise has had in years.

"[When] you have that versatility over a 17-game season, that comes becomes very important," McLaurin said. "If you get pigeonholed into this guy can only play this, this guy can only play that it hurts not only the player, but it hurts the offense and the team."

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The Commanders are just two days into training camp so far, but the early returns from the wide receiver room have been positive.

McLaurin looks as steady as ever and was on the receiving end of a deep Carson Wentz pass on Wednesday, the top highlight from Day 1 of camp. The 26-year-old made an impressive adjustment in the air to snag the pass, demonstrating his elite ability to haul in contested catches. 

Samuel, who's put two solid practice days together, flashed on Thursday by putting a sick juke on cornerback Benjamin St-Juste after catching a short pass from Wentz.

"That gave me flashbacks of college and seeing what he can do with just with the ball in his hands, his versatility after the catch," McLaurin said. "Most guys catch that ball on a five-yard pass and they may get two or three extra yards and the move that he made on a dime that gets you 10 to 12 extra yards with his ability. So, it's cool for other people to see that, get to feel that. He looks like he has a good spring in his step."

Rivera was also quite impressed by that move from Samuel and hopes it is a sign of what's the come with the sixth-year veteran now healthy.

"That showed in space with the ball how dynamic he can be and that's what we need," Rivera said. "That's the kind of explosiveness that you're looking for is if we can get guys with the ball in their hands in space and create, there's an opportunity for us to win some football games and that's what we have to do. That's where we got to get to.”

Then there's Dotson, who was the star of OTAs and minicamp when McLaurin was absent during contract negotiations. Even with McLaurin back, Dotson has continued to get first-team reps and has made a handful of plays throughout the first two days that show exactly what the Commanders selected him 16th overall.

On a day that was dominated by Washington's defense, the best play offensively came via Dotson. The rookie, lined up against St-Juste, beat the second-year cornerback off the line and wheeled towards the left sideline, where Wentz hit him perfectly in stride for a big gain.

Coming out of Penn State, draft analysts were enamored with Dotson's hands. This spring, Wentz even called him one of the most natural pass-catchers he's ever been around. This specific play was one of the first times McLaurin got to see it for himself. He came away plenty impressed.

"When you're a sure-handed guy like he is and has been up until this point, he has a lot of confidence when the ball does get into his vicinity," McLaurin said on Dotson. "I think what he did great on that pass that he caught down the field is a lot of receivers may fade away a little bit and let the ball get caught inside. And it gives the DB a chance to get his hand in there. But when you trust your hands like he does, he kept the defensive back in between him and the ball and he caught it on his outside shoulder. He used really good late hands, which it's kind of tough to do. I'm still working on that skill a little bit as well."

McLaurin's first impression of Dotson came a couple of years ago when he was watching his alma mater play Penn State. In that game, a 38-25 Buckeyes victory, Dotson hauled in an Odell Beckham Jr.-esque one-handed touchdown catch, a play McLaurin still vividly remembers watching.

"I didn't know that was him at first in college, but he caught a one-hander against Ohio State. You kind of see his ball skills out here," McLaurin said. "I got to see him again in California and he's just very natural when he catches the ball.

McLaurin is still getting to know Dotson, as the two have only spent a handful of days together between their July trip to Los Angeles and the first few days of camp. The veteran said Dotson is quiet at times, but that's to be expected from rookies. McLaurin has been impressed with Dotson's approach to camp, calling it "very business-like" and professional.

On the other hand, though, McLaurin hopes to see Dotson show more emotion when he makes a big play like the one he made Thursday. 

"You try to encourage him to smile. You know what I mean? Cuz it's hard to make plays in this league," McLaurin said. "And when you make explosive plays like he did today, those change games, those change possessions, and it gets the offense juiced up when you see receivers going down, making plays like that. So I just wanna continue to encourage him to be himself, help continue to hone in on his skills, take the coaching really well, which he already does. I think he has a chance to help us a lot."

It's hard to believe since McLaurin is only entering his fourth season, but he's the elder statesman in the Commanders receiver room. Besides Cam Sims, no wideout has been with the team longer than McLaurin.

Already a team captain and leader of the team, McLaurin is now viewed as one of the faces of the franchise -- especially after signing his extension. With that responsibility comes the territory, and one of those responsibilities includes being a mentor to the rest of the receivers. It's something McLaurin has tried to do in the past and hopes to do more of this year with Dotson and the rest of the young wideouts on the team.

"My rookie year I had the opportunity to learn from a lot of great veterans. I kind of had that at Ohio State as well. ... I take pride in that because it's hard to make it in this league and we all know we're fighting for the same jobs," McLaurin said. "We all know we're competitive and want to make plays. But if I can do anything that I can to share my wisdom, to share what I've learned from this game, to try to be infectious with my personality, with my confidence, with my competitiveness, I think that that breeds a stronger room. It breeds a healthy room to where guys know they could trust you. And you're looking out for their best interests, knowing that we're still competing and everything like that. But if there is any way I could help these guys, I'm going to do that."

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