ASHBURN, Va. -- Injuries aside, the Washington Commanders plan to have their starters play a decent amount during Saturday's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.
"We'd like to see the first group somewhere between 15 and 20 plays, something along those lines," head coach Ron Rivera said Thursday. "Then go from there with the seconds and thirds."
That includes quarterback Carson Wentz, who will make his Commanders' debut following this past offseason's trade with Indianapolis. The fact that Wentz will suit up does not come as a surprise, as Rivera said the 29-year-old would play in the preseason opener following Saturday's practice at FedEx Field.
While other clubs across the league have chosen to keep their respective starting quarterback sidelined for the preseason opener, Wentz said he's excited to suit up.
"I trust their decision, I trust what Coach [Scott] Turner thinks, I trust what Coach Rivera thinks and everything," Wentz said after an evening practice at FedEx Field last Saturday. "I know as an offense there are some new pieces, there are some new things so I know we want to get out there, so we’ll trust them to make the call in terms of how much. Either way, I’m excited to run out there and get some live action a little bit.”
By playing Wentz and the rest of the starting unit, Rivera hopes to see some consistency within the group. That includes what happens before the play -- such as getting the play-call in and breaking the huddle -- but also "being successful with the plays that are called," Rivera said.
Rivera's reasoning for having Wentz and the starting offense play somewhere between 15-to-20 plays, rather than just one drive or so, is to hopefully maximize the number of different scenarios the offense faces.
"We hope we get all kinds of situational football. We'd love to see a couple of third downs," Rivera said. "We'd love to see some red zone stuff, obviously, and then some short-yardage and goal-line [situations]. You hope for that in your first game. That's why you target somewhere between 15-20 plays, have a nice drive somewhere -- eight or nine plays -- and stuff like that."
Backup Taylor Heinicke, who started 16 games for Washington last season, will be first off the bench to replace Wentz. Rivera said the plan is to play Heinicke into the third quarter, with rookie Sam Howell coming on after to close the contest.
Howell, a fifth-round pick in April, was drafted as a developmental project behind Wentz and Heinicke. The former North Carolina star has flashed at camp -- particularly with his strong arm -- but still has plenty to learn, per his head coach.
To conclude Thursday's practice, Rivera had Howell and the third-team offense go through a two-minute drill. The head coach is hoping his rookie quarterback gets to experience the same situation on Saturday, this time in live-action against an actual opponent.
"I'd love to see Sam get a two-minute at the end of the game. That would be really cool," Rivera said. "It'd be a real good experience for him as well. He's still got a lot to learn, but just the consistency is what you're hoping. You're hoping he has success, hoping he controls things and is consistent with his ball placement."
Outside of the quarterbacks, the Commanders plan to play almost all of their starters that are not currently dealing with an injury. That includes wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who has been in and out of practice throughout training camp due to conditioning issues. Rivera said Thursday that Samuel -- who played just five games in 2021 -- will play vs. Carolina.
The Commanders won't play starting center Chase Roullier, however. Roullier began training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list but was added to the active roster just days later. The 28-year-old suffered a fractured fibula last October.
Defensively, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste will play on Saturday despite spending Thursday's practice working on the side field, according to Rivera.
Kickoff for Washington's first preseason game is at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. on NBC4 and NBC Sports Washington.