ASHBURN, Va. — The Voice can be heard, loud and clear, from 30, 40, even 50 yards away. Probably more. And when offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy talks, the Washington Commanders listen.
He has always been loud, always demanding.
After 10 years with the Kansas City Chiefs, he might just be a little bit louder, a little more demanding.
“I’m fired up and excited. It’s given me a whole new outlook,” Bieniemy said.
So when Jahan Dotson, the Commanders’ first-round pick in 2022, didn’t run fast enough on a route during an individual drill, Bieniemy shouted: “This is not no half-ass drill; run it again!” So Dotson did as he was told: He ran it again at a faster speed.
When projected starting quarterback Sam Howell dropped a shotgun snap on the second play in full-team work, Bieniemy ordered the first group off the field.
“Give me the twos! We’re gonna do it right!” Bieniemy yelled.
It went like that throughout the spring: Washington’s players getting used to Bieniemy’s style. But they also know the offense could use a good kick in the rear.
“He’s going to bring the intensity,” Washington receiver Terry McLaurin said. “We know what is expected of us every time we’re on the field.”
Training camp remains a month away, but in the four-plus months since Washington hired Bieniemy as offensive coordinator/assistant head coach, the Commanders already have felt his impact. It extends way beyond the yelling, which was easy to hear or feel by anyone attending a practice. It’s felt in how they planned practices, how much he focuses on the details, it’s the energy he brings. Even the defensive players paid attention.
“You can’t help but notice it,” Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. “I love that style of coaching.”
Washington hired Bieniemy to build an offense that could help the Commanders earn a playoff spot after firing Scott Turner.
They have not had an offense finish in the top 10 in points or yards since 2016, when they finished third in total yards. In the past five seasons, Washington’s best finish in either category occurred last season when it was 20th in total yards; it ranks a cumulative 28th in points and 31st in yards.
In fact, Washington has had only three seasons since 2000 in which it finished top-10 in one of those categories — and only one time (2012) when it was top-10 in both. Not so coincidentally, the organization has not won a playoff game since 2005.
And, yes, it’s also a chance for Bieniemy to perhaps finally prove he’s worthy of being a head coach. For the past 10 years he served as an assistant to Andy Reid in Kansas City; Bieniemy was the offensive coordinator for the past five seasons. He interviewed for a head coaching job 15 times; he received 15 rejections.
“A big part of it is because of Andy’s shadow,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “And I think it’s unfair.”
At his introductory news conference in February, Bieniemy said what he had to say about not being a head coach yet: “It hasn’t happened. It’s not anything that’s going to impact me moving forward. All that stuff about being the head coach, we can talk about that next year sometime. I’m focused on the job at hand.”
So he’s not talking about it now. But, he said, that “job at hand” has energized him.
“When you’ve been in a place for 10 years, you have a tendency to take certain things for granted,” Bieniemy said. “This has helped me to go back and dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.”
He brought ideas to Washington about how he wanted to maximize practices for the offense. He brought a new offense; Rivera had favored one system since becoming a head coach in 2011 with Carolina. But Rivera also altered some of their practice routines this spring to accommodate Bieniemy. He liked that Bieniemy always had a plan — or a reason for why he wanted something done a certain way.
Because it was a new offense, with a young quarterback in Howell, Bieniemy wanted to do an install, then have meetings and then practice. In the past, they’d practice and then have meetings — as other coaches have done in previous years.
Also, the Commanders worked almost exclusively on their pass game this spring in full-team work, with a rare run play. It provided more reps for a young quarterback in Howell, giving the coaches a greater chance to see how he handled various situations.
“After you’ve been in the same system for 12 years, change is always a good thing,” Rivera said about welcoming Bieniemy’s new approach, “and it’s been really refreshing.”
However, Bieniemy’s adherence to details overshadowed any changes in the practice regimen. It didn’t matter if it was a starter such as Dotson or someone who might not make the roster; if they didn’t run the play right, they would be chastised. Bieniemy got on receiver Kyric McGowan during one practice for the depth of one route. He made him run it again. McGowan played 10 snaps on offense last season. Another time it’s a backup center in rookie minicamp.
“He’s just trying to push you,” Washington right guard Sam Cosmi said. “He’s been part of Super Bowl teams and you don’t get that way without working your butt off and keeping people accountable.”
It could be about route depths; it also could be about the speed of getting in and out of the huddle or someone jogging — instead of sprinting — off the field.
“Things you might not think is that big but it is, and when the game’s on the line you want those to be perfect,” Washington running back Antonio Gibson said.
During one practice, Bieniemy was upset that Gibson caught a screen pass in front of the line of scrimmage during a group drill against no defense. They ran it again. He caught it behind the line. Later versus the defense, they ran the same screen and Gibson broke off a long gain.
“The thing I always stress is that I want us to have a sense of urgency and sense of purpose,” Bieniemy said. “Getting out of the huddle is probably the most important thing because you’re setting a tone to the defense. I’m always critical of that. Then I want us to execute our jobs with greater attention to detail.”
Rivera said players see the results from the yelling and don’t take it personally.
“They understand that he’s not just yelling at me to yell at me and try and make an example of me or show everybody he’s stronger than me or smarter than me,” Rivera said. “It’s because that’s how he emphasizes things. That’s his way of making a point of something, saying this is very important. We need to pay attention to this. We need to understand that this is how we need to do these things.”
But there’s the other part of that demanding nature. Dotson, for example, experienced it when Bieniemy stopped him after a meeting to deliver another message.
“He was like, ‘You have so much potential, and I’m going to make sure I get it out of you,’” Dotson said. “That’s what you want in someone. That’s kind of how my dad was at a very young age; he saw the potential in me and made sure I worked to get to where I want to be in life. You’ve got to cherish people like that in your life, so I’m super thankful to have him as a coordinator.”
Bieniemy also understands the growth process of a young quarterback. During one play in a 7-on-7 drill in minicamp, Howell was late to his secondary read. Even though he completed the pass, Howell knew what he had done wrong.
After the play, he turned to Bieniemy and told him, “I was late.” Bieniemy didn’t chastise him. Instead, he replied: “That’s all right, you made the read. That’s the read we want.”
But Bieniemy also called himself out when he messed up, once pointing out on the sidelines how he sent in the wrong play.
“He’s trying to set a very high standard,” Howell said. “That’s what we want. We’re completely bought in to what he’s trying to do.”