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5 defensive players to watch for the Commanders in preseason opener vs. Browns

by nytime
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It’s been a great summer to buy stock in the Washington Commanders defense. Yes, it’s only training camp, but one of the NFL’s top defenses last season has been impressive and should be even better in 2023.

Defensive end Chase Young is back and healthy. The Commanders also added a pair of premium picks by drafting defensive backs Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin.

There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding Washington’s defense as it opens the preseason Friday against the Cleveland Browns. It’s doubtful that head coach Ron Rivera will play his defensive starters too much, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Forbes and Martin get some additional time in their debuts.

We’ve picked five defensive players to watch in Washington’s preseason opener.

DE K.J. Henry

Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry (5)

Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry (5)

The Washington Commanders know who their top four defensive ends are in 2023: Chase Young, Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill. There is also Efe Obada, who can play inside or outside. The biggest battle on the defensive line comes down to a pair of 2023 draft picks: Fifth-round DE K.J. Henry and seventh-round DE Andre Jones.

The Commanders will likely keep one on the 53-man roster. They like both players and traded up for Henry. Henry rotated a lot in college because of Clemson’s outstanding defensive line talent. The Commanders believe there is untapped potential there. Henry is also already a fan favorite. Both Henry and Jones should see plenty of action Friday. Multiple pressures on the quarterback would go a long way for Henry in securing one of those final roster spots.

LB Cody Barton

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Cody Barton (57) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Cody Barton (57) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Barton has opened eyes this summer, especially when Washington put the pads on. Barton has good size and speed but plays even faster. He’s a hard hitter with a higher ceiling than departed linebacker Cole Holcomb. Barton has fit in well with his new teammates, and while he probably will not play a ton, there is genuine excitement seeing him take the field as a Commander for the first time.

Khaleke Hudson #47 of the Washington Commanders. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Khaleke Hudson #47 of the Washington Commanders. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Let’s continue the linebacker theme here. Hudson is not new to Washington fans. This is his fourth season, but the buzz around him since January is too much to ignore. Hudson was outstanding in the season finale against the Cowboys. Coaches have praised his continued development throughout the offseason, recognizing his athleticism on the field and his ability to play each linebacker position. Hudson is a backup for now, but he’ll play significant minutes this season. It will be interesting to see his offseason translates into the first preseason game.

CB Quan Martin

<a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/40087" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jartavius Martin;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jartavius Martin</a> #21 of the Illinois Fighting Illini intercepts a pass. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Jartavius Martin #21 of the Illinois Fighting Illini intercepts a pass. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Forbes may not play a lot due to him tweaking his groin last week. He did return to practice, but Washington may not push him too much. However, Martin is a different story. Everyone has praised Forbes this summer — and rightfully so — but Martin has been equally as impressive in a completely different manner. Martin plays everywhere — and well. He gives Washington the type of versatility it has lacked. We’re curious to see where he lines up in the preseason opener and if that is any indication of where the Commanders plan to use him in 2023.

Washington Commanders safety Percy Butler (35) holds a cheesehead after the Commanders’ game against the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/green-bay/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Green Bay Packers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Green Bay Packers</a>. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Commanders safety Percy Butler (35) holds a cheesehead after the Commanders’ game against the Green Bay Packers. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One player who isn’t receiving enough attention this summer is second-year safety Percy Butler. Washington has a lot of talent at safety. While Butler will not be a starter in 2023, he will play. The Commanders believe Butler could make a similar jump as Darrick Forrest did last season in his second year. Butler is fast, physical and versatile. Much like Martin, we want to see where defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio lines up Butler in the preseason.

Story originally appeared on Commanders Wire

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