Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders pass-catchers see chemistry improve in camp

ASHBURN, Va. -- It was just a pass during one nondescript practice in early August. Yet it was the sort of play the Washington Commanders hoped to see: quarterback Carson Wentz pumping the ball, then hitting receiver Terry McLaurin with a back-shoulder throw.

The play wasn't a designed back-shoulder throw; McLaurin ran a double move. But it turned into one, and resulted in a good throw and touchdown catch. For the coaches, the play highlighted a step forward in building chemistry between Wentz and McLaurin. And that, in turn, is a big step for the passing game as the Commanders prepare to host the Carolina Panthers in their first preseason game at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.

"It's an example of them being on the same accord and in rhythm," receivers coach Drew Terrell said.

It's been obvious in the first two weeks of training camp that Washington's passing game remains a work in progress. Sometimes Wentz will be sped up by the pass rush, resulting in off-target throws. Other times McLaurin, for example, has admitted that he will break too quickly on a route, leading to a throw behind him.

During practice Tuesday, Wentz connected with McLaurin on one 10-yard out route when corner Kendall Fuller was on his inside hip. Wentz delivered the ball to where only McLaurin could catch it, and he did. On a throw Wednesday, as McLaurin turned, the ball was already thrown to his inside.

Terrell said it's a matter of the quarterback and receivers getting their timing down.

Said Washington coach Ron Rivera: "There are some inaccuracies, but it's nothing that we are overly concerned about. You see what's going on and how things are developing. You see the timing and just understand the feeling of what's going on with our concept. So, we will continue to grow and work on it."

Washington's offense has good players, but it's a work in progress because of new parts, absences and injuries. Wentz arrived via trade in the offseason; McLaurin skipped the on-field work in OTAs and minicamp while his contract was sorted out; the team drafted receiver Jahan Dotson in the first round; starting tight end Logan Thomas (torn right ACL) remains on the physically unable to perform list; and receiver Curtis Samuel, who missed 12 games last season with soft-tissue injuries, has been in and out of practice as they take a cautious approach.

"We're still working stuff out," Dotson said. "I'm new to the playbook, Carson is new to the playbook, still trying to figure out the timing, depth and spacing of everything we need to be successful."

Adding to it: The top two tight ends behind Thomas -- John Bates (left calf) and rookie Cole Turner (left hamstring) -- have both missed at least a week of practice.

"It feels good, it could definitely get better," Wentz said of the passing game's progress. "But it's still early ... Far from perfect, but it's fun developing chemistry with those guys."

A group of Commanders, including McLaurin and Dotson, worked out with Wentz for a week in California last month, days after McLaurin signed his three-year extension. Wentz said he got to know more about his teammates off the field as well as on it.

During practice, or in meetings, Wentz and the receivers will chat about plays that went awry to figure out why, or to explain what they were seeing. They're starting to connect more on the intermediate timing routes.

"It's just still a process to be honest," McLaurin said. "I think the best thing that I can continue to do is be as available as I can in practice ... just talking things through.

"It's hard to just make it happen."

McLaurin has played with eight starting quarterbacks during his first three seasons. Few stats better explain why Washington is 17-32 during that time. That's why it's important for Wentz to at least be a consistent, productive passer for them.

"I know we're going through some growing pains," McLaurin said. "But I think just his demeanor and my demeanor makes for a good foundation along with the other guys we have in our room. ... We have definitely improved from our first week at camp. Procedurally we are great, I think we are in the right spots, it's just getting those repetitions and getting used to how he throws the ball."

The coaches and players like how Wentz has commanded the huddle. And he's taking more charge at the line. On Tuesday, he motioned to rookie tight end Curtis Hodges to get to the correct split on the play. Hodges did so and, after the snap, Wentz connected with him in rhythm on a crossing route.

And the touchdown in Saturday's practice was noteworthy because, McLaurin said, it was the first time they ran that concept in camp.

"When you have plays like that where you don't really get to rep them a lot and you connect," McLaurin said, "That gave me a lot of confidence, and it gave him confidence, too."