Alex Smith part of Washington’s QB competition if he passes physical, Ron Rivera says as camp opens
Smith was cleared by his doctors after a lengthy recovery from a compound fracture in his right leg suffered in November 2018. But the team has yet to fully clear him for practice because of the uncertainty about his football conditioning and how his body will respond to the stresses of the game.
Smith, as well as linebacker Reuben Foster, were placed on the active/physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp, allowing them to do nearly everything an active player can at this point in the season except participate in practice. The team can activate them at any point or keep them in reserve for the regular season.
“We feel pretty confident in what they’ve done,” Rivera said. “We thought they both had very good offseasons in terms of their rehab programs. They both look extremely good right now, but again, you really don’t know until you get them on the field pounding and doing football-specific drills. And then we have to see how their injuries react. … They just haven’t passed the football portions of their physicals for us.”
Rivera has stressed the need for competition at nearly every position but especially at quarterback, where Smith now potentially joins offseason acquisition Kyle Allen in challenging second-year pro Dwayne Haskins for the starting job. But in a year with an entirely virtual offseason and no preseason, ensuring players receive enough on-field reps and gamelike competition for evaluation and development is among Rivera’s taller tasks in camp.
With Scott Turner as the offensive coordinator and Jack Del Rio leading the defense, Washington is installing new systems on both sides and leaning on many first- and second-year players to carry significant loads.
“We didn’t have a normal offseason to watch our guys work together and develop that type of timing that’s required, and not just for the quarterbacks and receivers but for the runners and blockers and tacklers and cover guys,” Rivera said. “That’s why I think the [NFL Players Association] wanted this ramp-up period so badly, because if you go back and you reflect on what happened in 2011 when there was a lockout, the one thing that we did have during that start to [training camp] … is we had a number of soft-tissue injuries.”
The start to camp this year will include five days of coronavirus testing followed by an incremental increase in activity, similar to offseason workouts, before teams can hold their first padded practice. But because the preseason was eliminated, opportunities for players clawing for roster spots will be scarce.
Rivera’s plan is to create as many gamelike situations as possible in practice, but simulating live action rarely measures up to the real thing. When the pads do come on, periods of live hitting could weigh heavily in a player’s evaluation.
“In the past you could rely on four preseason games to judge the young guys, but now we have to rely on the way we do things at practice,” Rivera said. “They’re going to be judged on everything … from the way they handle themselves to the way they handle meetings, practices — those are all things we have to take into account as we make our final decisions.
“It’s going to be difficult. . . . It’s not going to be as fair as it used to be because of the situation and circumstances because, again, we won’t have those four preseason games. But we’re going to try and create as many situations as possible.”
Rivera outlined multiple positions that will be decided by competition, namely the left tackle and left guard spots. The receiving corps is especially thin after an injury to Kelvin Harmon (ACL) and the indefinite absence of Cody Latimer (commissioner’s exempt list), and the running backs room is crowded with a mix of veterans and two young players — Derrius Guice and Bryce Love — returning from injuries. The defense has a few starting jobs up for grabs.
But no position is more important than quarterback. Five months after Smith suffered his leg injury, Washington selected Haskins in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft. Haskins started seven games as a rookie, showing marked improvement as the season progressed, but Rivera declined to name him the starter for 2020 and reinforced his belief in competition by trading for Allen, a third-year quarterback who played for Rivera with the Carolina Panthers.
Smith’s continued recovery could force a shake-up in the room if the team eventually determines he is fit to play. Smith has four years remaining on his contract, but the structure affords the team an easier out in 2021 than it does in 2020; his dead-money value, which is the amount the team owes him no matter if he is released or traded, is $10.8 million in 2021, according to the contract website Spotrac. For 2020, the figure is $32.2 million.
That means Smith’s window to get back on the field is now — just as Haskins works toward a full-time starting role and Allen vies for the same job.
“It’s going to be pure competition,” Rivera said. “I like the fact that we have a good group of guys that will push one another. I think the big thing more so than anything else is going to be about how each guy develops over a period of time. … The one downfall is we don’t have any preseason games. So we’re going to have to try to create as many gamelike situations in our practices as possible so we can get a good evaluation of our quarterbacks.”