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Josh Harris assures Commanders with his words, his presence and a few changes

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In the first two days of training camp, Washington Commanders players say they have felt a big difference with new owner Josh Harris. They have seen Harris on the sideline, meeting coaches, players and staff, and they credit him for upgrading the field by adding big metal stands and a sea of white tents for fans and operations.

“Mr. Harris ain’t playing games,” defensive end Chase Young said.

“Last training camp, we didn’t have any of this,” right guard Sam Cosmi said. “This looks put together. It looks like a professional football team.”

Harris and his limited partners have inspired some players — “Extra motivation,” safety Darrick Forrest said — and seemed like fans of others. Once, during a special teams practice period, Harris posed for a photo with limited partner Mitchell Rales, former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann and Young.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the first practice of camp, Harris introduced himself to the whole team in the meeting room. The 58-year-old who grew up in Chevy Chase told the players stories about going to RFK Stadium as a kid, his ascent in business and his ownership of other sports teams. Harris was brief, speaking for only about 10 minutes, but the players were impressed.

“Pretty cool to get to talk to him,” wide receiver Jahan Dotson said.

“He wants to get this thing going the right way,” center Nick Gates said.

“I found out he’s from just around the corner,” said Young, who grew up about 35 miles from Chevy Chase, in Cheltenham, Md.

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For some players, Harris’s words were less important than his presence. In the past few years, as former owner Daniel Snyder’s grip on his beloved franchise loosened, few players saw him. The only time Cosmi did was from a distance at a practice his rookie year. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who signed with Washington in 2021, said he never met Snyder — though he noted Snyder sent him flowers after the births of his two daughters.

“When you have support from ownership, that means a lot,” Leno said. “I’m not saying that we didn’t [from Snyder], but in a way we didn’t — just with all the outside noise. I don’t expect any outside noise to distract us this year. We can just focus on ball now.”

“I loved it, man,” veteran cornerback Kendall Fuller said of Harris’s talk with the team. “Just him wanting to get out here and be a part of it — that definitely goes a long way.”

It will be impossible for Harris to keep up with all the Commanders. His NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers, is allowed to carry a maximum of 15 players during the season, and his NHL team, the New Jersey Devils, is allowed 23. But the Commanders have 90 players at camp and can carry up to 53 on the active roster during the season — plus another 16 on the practice squad. Harris has started building relationships with some of his most important players; defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and wide receiver Terry McLaurin attended his introductory news conference at FedEx Field.

Around the facility, players said, Harris has stopped to chat or shake hands. In the meeting room, Harris told players he would give them the tools they needed to win — and what the players saw his group do at camp gave them hope.

“That’s what new ownership do,” Leno said, grinning. “Looks like [he has] opened up the budget a little bit.”

“He’s doing things above our head to make our life easier, and that just makes us play harder,” Young said.

Gates, who spent the first five years of his career with the New York Giants, is used to playing for a team with a friendly, engaged owner. He said John Mara, the president, CEO and co-owner of the Giants, was in the building every day and had a long-standing “open-door policy” for everyone from star players to undrafted free agents such as Gates.

“We’d talk a lot,” Gates said. “We had a good relationship. I kind of joke with him … about being here [in Washington]. He helped me out a couple times last year.”

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Linebacker Jamin Davis said he didn’t pay attention to the ownership transition but feels “it’s good that it’s out of the way.”

“We are here to play ball,” he said. “We’re trying to pay attention to what we have to focus on, and that has nothing to do with [ownership].”

But older players, such as Gates and Fuller, see a connection between ownership’s presence and winning. They’re optimistic that increased investment will give them the tools to recover better, play better and ultimately win more, which will help Harris deliver on his hopes of restoring the glory to the franchise he grew up rooting for.

“The biggest thing that we can do for this organization is go out and win football games,” Fuller said, and as the glow of the new era fades and as the Harris regime learns the football business, each side probably will be buoyed by the idea that the other shares the same priority: winning.

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