Commanders WRs on learning Eric Bieniemy’s playbook: 'It’s almost like being in school again'

It's not always easy to learn something new, and the Washington Commanders' wide receivers are grappling with that reality this offseason with the incorporation of new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s system.

Bieniemy's presence isn't just more intense. The ex-Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator also brought his version of the West Coast offense to Washington. Bieniemy spent 14 years under two coaches who utilized the West Coast offense: Andy Reid for the past nine years with the Chiefs, and Brad Childress, who himself is a Reid disciple, from 2006-10 with the Minnesota Vikings.

The scheme isn't simple, both in its vernacular and execution, and Commanders pass-catchers recognized that pretty quickly.

“I couldn’t recite [the plays] to you. That’s how wild it is,” receiver Jahan Dotson told the Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala. “It’s amazing that the quarterbacks can listen to it and say it to us in the huddle because it’s that complex. It’s truly that complex.”

The West Coast system uses strings of words to deliver play calls. So when a quarterback receives the play from his helmet headset, he'll typically relay items every player on the offense needs to know before the snap: the shift, the formation, the motion, which players do what and the play concept. That's then followed by the snap count and the "ready-break" command.

This is completely different from the numbers-based delivery system the Commanders used under ex-offensive coordinator Scott Turner before Washington fired him at the end of the 2022 season. It also differs from the hand signal delivery system many colleges, including Dotson's Penn State Nittany Lions, use.

“Them play calls be long," Commanders wideout Curtis Samuel added.

In order to learn the new system, Commanders players had to get a bit creative with their study habits.

Eric Bieniemy brought a brand-new offensive system to the Commanders. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Eric Bieniemy brought a brand-new offensive system to the Commanders. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Per Jhabvala, wideout Terry McLaurin would walk through the plays he learned the night before in his backyard or living room. Dotson, meanwhile, drew out the plays on whiteboards.

“It’s almost like being in school again,” Dotson said. “... You draw the plays, different little things like that, just to remember it. Any way possible for it to stick in your head, because some of the play calls are ridiculous.”

Everything falls back onto second-year quarterback Sam Howell, though. After the Commanders named him the starter, Howell enjoyed a solid preseason win over the Baltimore Ravens, completing 19 of 25 passing attempts for 188 yards and two touchdowns. His command of Bieniemy's West Coast offense will be paramount if Washington wants to compete this season.