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Inside or Out, Benjamin St-Juste Still Finding Footing in Commanders Defense

Moving full-time inside, Benjamin St-Juste is starting to get more comfortable as the Commanders' starting nickel defender.

Second-year Washington Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste is looking for consistency this season. That starts by staying put at one position. 

Last season, the former third-rounder saw reps on the perimeter. When that soured, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio shifted him inside to the team's nickel role. It was something the Minnesota product expected having played a variety of positions during his time with the Golden Gophers, but it did slow down his comfort level. 

Knowing his role predominantly will be inside has slowed the game down tenfold. 

"As a rookie, obviously you got the bearings of having to learn defense, knowing the ins and out at NFL," St-Juste said Tuesday. "You got a lot going on in your mind, but year two is way more comfortable. I can go out there and really be comfortable and really play to my full potential." 

There's difference from playing the perimeter and playing inside. Nickel defenders often have to be willing to tackle and play the run. The more physical one can be against tight ends and slot receivers, the better.

St-Juste spent time monitoring the linebackers and defensive line to just adjust himself to the formation. Often times, the nickel must work hand-in-hand with linebackers in terms of alignment and coverages. They also must have the instincts of a safety in coverage when mirroring tight ends. 

"You're in the run fit, you're covering tight ends, and you're covering quick receivers," St-Juste said. "It's definitely more demanding, but, it's definitely a nice challenge and I've been doing good so far.”

The 6-3 defensive back was drafted last April due to his aggressiveness in terms of tackling. Add in his size and all receivers will have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage against him. 

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One thing that St-Juste continues to do is ask for advice from veterans such as William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller. Fuller, who transitioned outside permanently last season, began his career as the team's starting nickel. 

"I can just go ask them questions and see how they see it, and their perspective on that. They give me tips and all that stuff," St-Juste said of the two veteran defenders. "I learned a lot from them from this last year up until now and definitely improve my game being around him.”  

The Commanders' secondary seems to be coming together prior to the start of the regular season. With the release of Pro Bowler Landon Collins, third-year safety Kam Curl is expected to work reps on the strong side. 

Jackson, who signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract in March 2021, is looking to rebound after mixed results in his first season donning the burgundy. Fuller should be viewed as the team's top corner after his growth on the outside in coverage, primarily in the sense of creating turnovers. 

The 27-year-old has logged multiple interceptions against new starting quarterback Carson Wentz and has blanketed star receiver Terry McLaurin on more than one occasion. 

As for free safety, Bobby McCain looks to return to the back end after signing a two-year, $11 million deal in the offseason. During his first season under Del Rio, McCain recorded 63 total tackles, nine pass deflections, four interceptions and scored a touchdown.

St-Juste said he learned a bit more of how Del Rio wants his nickel defender to play by watching Curl last season. One of the biggest tools to be successful inside is the attention to detail in coverage. 

"Just by looking at him on film, seeing how he plays, his style of play, his reads, and all that stuff," St-Juste said. "That’s another player that I can like mold my game around him.”

The Commanders open their preseason at FedEx Field against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday at 1 p.m.