Jul 29, 2022; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson (8) participates in drills during day three of training camp at the Park in Ashburn. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders RB Brian Robinson set for NFL debut after shooting

The Commanders activated rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. from the non-football injury list on Saturday, and he’ll be available when Washington hosts the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Robinson, 23, was released from the hospital on Aug. 29 after undergoing surgery for two gunshot wounds suffered while he was a bystander during an attempted robbery in Washington, D.C., the previous day. Robinson has made a speedy recovery, with doctors saying he sustained no structural damage.

“He had good week,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said Friday afternoon, according to the team website. “This morning, he was there and he was in good shape. So we’re pretty fired up.”

So is Robinson, who was running agility drills 18 days after the incident.

“It’s been a long five weeks, but it’s a lot of work,” Robinson said Wednesday. “We put in a lot of work over that time, and I could say I did everything I needed to do over that time period to make sure I was here today.”

He called the time immediately after the shooting “probably one of the lowest points in my life.” But now he’s headed toward his NFL debut.

“I’m definitely ambitious, and I’m gonna fight for anything I believe in,” Robinson said. “If I believe that I can return back to the field and do what I need to do to the level that I want to do it, then that’s the steps I’m taking to put myself in that position.”

A third-round pick this year, Robinson rushed for 57 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown in the preseason. He added two catches for 15 yards.

As a senior at Alabama in 2021, Robinson rushed for 1,343 yards with 14 touchdowns for the national title runner-up.

–Field Level Media

Jan 19, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; East head coach Sam Mills III of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field at the end of the second quarter against the West at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Commaders fire DL coach Sam Mills III

The Washington Commanders fired defensive line coach Sam Mills III on Tuesday.

He will be replaced by assistant defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina.

Head coach Ron Rivera said the decision to relieve Mills of his duties had been building over the offseason because of a difference in philosophy.

“It was something I just felt had to be done,” Rivera said.

Mills, 44, was part of Rivera’s staff with the Carolina Panthers, first as a defensive assistant and then as the defensive line coach. When Rivera took over as coach of the Washington franchise in 2020, Mills went with him.

Mills is the son of the late Sam Mills, who played with the Panthers and New Orleans Saints. The elder Mills was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously on Saturday.

Zgonina, 52, played in 219 games with seven teams over 17 NFL seasons (1993-2009) as a defensive tackle.

–Field Level Media

Jun 15, 2022; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera speaks with the media after practice on day two of minicamp at The Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: NFL fines Ron Rivera, docks Commanders two practices

The NFL fined Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and stripped the team of two organized team activity practices in 2023 for conducting practices with excessive contact in spring sessions, multiple media outlets reported Friday.

ESPN reported the NFL Players Association reviewed the Commanders’ practice sessions on June 1 and 8 and informed the NFL’s Management Council that the team violated the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

This news comes on the heels of the NFL reportedly pushing back at the Dallas Cowboys for getting too physical in their organized team activities for a second consecutive year.

The league reportedly took away one OTA practice from the Cowboys for 2023, and head coach Mike McCarthy received a fine. ESPN reported that McCarthy was forced to pay $100,000.

ESPN reported Friday that the NFL fined Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith $50,000 after learning that his offensive and defensive linemen engaged in prohibited one-on-one drills.

Friday’s reports from Washington come one week after the Commanders fined defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio $100,000 for the comments he posted to Twitter that downplayed the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The team said the money will be donated to the United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Washington Football Team defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio before the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders DC deletes Twitter account amid controversy

Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has shut down his Twitter account after controversial comments led the team to fine him $100,000.

Del Rio, 59, posted remarks last week that downplayed the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, calling it a “dust-up” compared to the protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police two years ago. Del Rio later apologized for his comments.

Washington coach Ron Rivera issued a strongly worded statement Friday that said while he respects the right to free speech, there is no defense of the Jan. 6 actions, which he called “domestic terrorism.”

“His words hurt a lot of people in our community,” Rivera said of Del Rio. “I want to make it clear that our organization will not tolerate any equivalency between those who demanded justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the actions of those on January 6th who sought to topple our government.”

The team is donating Del Rio’s fine to the United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

Del Rio is entering his third season with Washington. He previously was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (2003-11) and Oakland Raiders (2015-17).

–Field Level Media

May 8, 2022; Potomac, Maryland, USA; Washington Commander head coach Ron Rivera watches the trophy presentation on the 18th green of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders coach Ron Rivera wins Halas Award

Washington head coach Ron Rivera was named the winner of the 2022 George Halas Award by the Professional Football Writers of America on Monday.

The award is given to an NFL player, coach or staff member who has succeeded following adversity. Rivera battled squamous cell carcinoma during the 2020 season, then led the Commanders to the playoffs that season.

Rivera is the 54th winner of the Halas Award and the second in as many years from the Washington franchise. Former quarterback Alex Smith won in 2021 following his return to football after a devastating leg injury put his career in jeopardy.

Other 2022 nominees for the Halas Award were Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby, Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

Rivera also was a finalist in 2021.

He was diagnosed with the cancer in his neck in August 2020 in the midst of his first training camp as Washington’s coach. He underwent treatment over seven weeks of the season, including IV treatments during halftime of games, but never missed a game on the sidelines. He was declared cancer-free in January 2021.

Washington finished the 2021 season with a 7-10 mark.

Rivera, 60, has a 90-82-1 record in 11 seasons coaching the Carolina Panthers (2011-19) and Washington. He led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 season, where they lost to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

The award is named for Halas, who won 324 games and six NFL titles in 40 seasons as coach of the Chicago Bears.

–Field Level Media

Aug 31, 2020; Washington, DC, United States; A view of seats in the stands wit the retired Washington Redskins logo during a Washington Football Team practice at Fedex Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: WFT trainer Ryan Vermillion subject of prescription drug probe

Washington Football Team head trainer Ryan Vermillion is being investigated for illegally distributing prescription drugs, the Washington Post and ESPN reported Thursday.

Federal law enforcement conducted a raid at the team’s practice facility and Vermillion’s home last week. On Monday, Washington placed him on administrative leave, saying in a statement it was “due to an ongoing criminal investigation that is unrelated to the team.”

Vermillion is not a physician, so by law he would not be allowed to disburse prescription drugs.

Earlier Thursday, the NFLPA informed agents that it has begun its own investigation into the matter.

“The work office and home of Ryan Vermillion were raided by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and one of our players has been contacted by federal investigators,” the memo revealed.

According to the initial report from NBC Sports Washington, the investigation into Vermillion has been ongoing for months.

Vermillion is in his second season with Washington after 18 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He spent nine seasons with Washington coach Ron Rivera in Carolina when Rivera was coach of the Panthers from 2011-19.

–Field Level Media

Jul 30, 2021; Richmond, VA, USA; Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera looks on during training camp at Bon Secours Washington Football Team Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera blasts spread of vaccine misinformation

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera has been an outspoken proponent of people – especially his players – getting the COVID-19 vaccination.

Now he’s taking aim at a different subset. In an interview with Sports Illustrated published Monday, the cancer survivor sounded off on purveyors of misinformation regarding the vaccine.

“Gen Z is relying on this,” Rivera told SI, holding up his phone. “And you got some, quite frankly, f—— a——- that are putting a bunch of misinformation out there, leading people to die. That’s frustrating to me, that these people are allowed to have a platform. And then, one specific news agency, every time they have someone on, ‘I’m not a doctor, but the vaccines don’t work.’ Or, ‘I’m not an epidemiologist, but vaccines are going to give you a third nipple and make you sterile.’ Come on. That, to me? That should not be allowed.”

Rivera said the problem crystallized for him in talking with one of his players, who got vaccinated but was unaware of the Delta variant, a more contagious strain of the virus. Rivera told SI he asked the player if he watches the news. The player responded that he gets “all my information from here” — his phone.

Rivera, who is immunocompromised after a battle with cancer in 2020, told SI he is a steady mask-wearer despite being fully vaccinated.

“We’ve had a couple situations with players already testing positive for COVID, and that scares the hell out of me, because I interact with these guys,” Rivera told SI. “I’m close to these guys, and sometimes I forget to put my mask on for extra insurance.”

Last month Rivera expressed his frustration with the lack of vaccinations on his team, both from competitive and general health standpoints.

“I think the big thing really is — have individual conversations,” he said. “I’m not going to tell anyone what to do. I hope we can get to these guys, to help them understand it’s not just to them, but also the folks around them.”

His push for education seems to have had an impact on his team.

As of Aug. 2, 84 percent of team personnel had been at least partially vaccinated — still among the lowest in the the NFL, however. The team was at a 60 percent vaccination rate the previous week

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team nose tackle Daron Payne (94) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington DT Daron Payne added to COVID-19 list

The Washington Football Team placed starting defensive tackle Daron Payne on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Sunday, the seventh player added since the start of training camp.

A day earlier, All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff and offensive tackle David Sharpe were added to the list. They followed wide receiver Curtis Samuel, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas and defensive back Chris Miller.

Washington has received criticism for its roster’s low vaccination rate. At the start of last week, only about 60 percent of the roster had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Washington’s entire coaching staff is vaccinated, but because so many of his players aren’t, coach Ron Rivera has continued to wear a mask around the team’s facility. Rivera is at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 despite the vaccine because he is a cancer survivor.

“I’m truly frustrated. I’m beyond frustrated. Part of the reason I walk in with a mask on is I’m immune-deficient,” Rivera said earlier in the week. “I just hope that our guys can understand that.”

Payne, 24, started all 16 games for Washington last season and collected 54 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. A first-round pick in 2018, Payne has appeared in 47 games in three seasons with 41 starts, anchoring a defensive front seven considered one of the most talented in the NFL.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) passes the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Washington mulls rotating QBs in wild-card game

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday he is considering rotating quarterbacks in Saturday night’s wild-card game against Tampa Bay.

Quarterback Alex Smith returned from a two-game absence because of a strained calf to lead Washington to a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, clinching the NFC East with a 7-9 record. However, Smith’s mobility appeared limited, leaving Rivera to devise an alternate plan for a matchup with the blitz-happy Buccaneers (11-5).

“We have to definitely look at that,” Rivera said Tuesday. “The truth of the matter is we play a very aggressive defense this week; it’s something we most certainly have to look at.”

Enter Taylor Heinicke, who was signed to Washington’s practice squad on Dec. 8 after a two-year hiatus from the league.

Smith’s calf injury, on the same leg that was seriously injured in 2018, came in a Week 14 victory at San Francisco. Dwayne Haskins started the next two games while Smith recovered, but the team released the former first-round draft pick on Dec. 28.

Heinicke played in Washington’s game against the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 27, subbing for a benched Haskins and throwing for 137 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL action since 2018 when he was with the Rivera-coached Panthers.

Rivera said Smith “had his moments” during the Eagles’ game but noted some instances that the veteran would have benefited from better mobility. Heinicke should be better prepared to help the cause after taking 25 snaps against the Panthers.

“We’ll just know as we go through the game and we get in certain situations or circumstances, we may have to consider something like (multiple quarterbacks),” Rivera said. “I can’t tell you what (the deciding factor) would be. It has to be something that comes up in the moment of the game.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera talks with an official against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Rivera rebuts revenge factor in clash with Panthers

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said this week’s game against the Carolina Panthers is all about clinching the NFC East, not earning revenge against his former employer.

Rivera’s team has a one-game lead in the loss column on every other team in the division, and a win over the Panthers this Sunday — combined with a New York Giants loss — would clinch the division for Washington (6-8). It would be Washington’s first postseason appearance since 2015.

“This is about the organization winning and getting into the playoffs and not Ron Rivera getting revenge,” Rivera said Monday. “That’s the last thing I want it to be.”

Rivera was fired by the Panthers last season after a Week 13 loss to Washington. He finished with a 76-63-1 record in eight-plus years in Carolina, including a Super Bowl appearance following the 2015 season.

“If this had been our opener, believe me it would be a highly emotional game. But it’s not,” Rivera said. “The consequences of this game is about this team, this organization, trying to be relevant and trying to take a step forward. I want to see us focus on the reasons why we want to win the game as opposed to a personal reason.”

The Panthers are 4-10 under new coach Matt Rhule.

–Field Level Media