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Commanders rookie DT Jer'Zhan Newton eager to learn from 'OGs' Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne

A new era for the Commanders was further signified with the selection of quarterback Jayden Daniels in April, but Washington also reinforced the strength of its defense with the selection of defensive tackle Jer'Zhan "Johnny" Newton in Round 2.

Newton is set to join a defensive front headed by Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, who've been the most consistent force in Washington the past six seasons. The 21-year-old rookie sees a great opportunity to learn and grow behind a pair "OGs" he's admired since high school.

"You're talking about guys I used to watch when they was in college, so transitioning to the NFL, of course, I still watched them," Newton said, via the team's official website. "Playing next to those guys, outstanding, an amazing feeling. [They're] older guys who have had success [in] college and in the NFL. So, I'm really happy."

Newton made an impact at Illinois as a true freshman and grew into one of the top DT prospects following a senior season that was recognized with a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and a First-Team All-American honor.

A Jones fracture to his right foot impeded his pre-draft process, however, and the injury might have prevented Newton from becoming a first-round pick. Still, Commanders general manager Adam Peters said he "could not believe" Newton was available when Washington was on the clock at No. 36 overall.

"He's exactly who we want to bring in this building," Peters said. "We think he's an advanced player who can come in and play right away. Really a three-down player who you can play on the run downs, play on pass downs, skilled, hands and feet are tied together."

The Commanders will have to wait longer than expected to see if Newton can make an immediate impact after it was learned a Jones fracture to his left foot required another surgery, which forced him to sit out rookie minicamp. While there is no clear timetable for Newton's on-field return, the Commanders are gearing up for new head coach Dan Quinn's aggressive defensive scheme by taking the Illinois product.

Allen and Payne, considered one of the best DT duos in the NFL, figure to not only benefit from Quinn's arrival but that of a few veterans acquired through free agency. Defensive end Dorance Armstrong, who flourished in Dallas under Quinn the last few seasons, joins Washington's defensive front. Behind them, Bobby Wagner and Frankie Luvu headline a revamped linebacking corps that should pay dividends for a unit that finished last in the NFL with 388.9 yards allowed per game in 2023. Safety Jeremy Chinn is another upgrade within Washington's offseason haul.

Where a healthy Newton falls into the mix as a rookie remains to be seen, but he enters an ideal environment for any highly regarded prospect.

"I have a great pre-snap recognition," Newton said of his skills. "I know which plays coming at which down and distance, which formation brings which play. So, I just feel like my knowledge on the game is very high compared to other people."

While Newton's arrival will require patience in Washington, it's an addition that could not only see immediate impact but one that has the potential to be a building block in the seasons to come as he learns the ropes from Allen and Payne.

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