In 2020, coach Ron Rivera felt like, at most, he could put two offensive players on the field that could "go the distance" once they got the ball. This season, however, Rivera believes the unit could deploy as many as four such threats — with one of those being Curtis Samuel.
The problem, of course, is that Samuel has to actually be on the field in order to count as a game-changing option for the Burgundy and Gold, and a groin issue that first popped up months ago has essentially relegated him to the sidelines since late May.
Until Monday, that is.
As Washington officially began its week of prep for their Week 1 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, Samuel made his long-awaited return to action. The wideout began the session by going through individual drills for the first time since Aug. 15 and then participated in a "limited number of plays" with the full squad, Rivera told reporters afterward.
As for Samuel, he explained that he was quite relieved to be involved again — but he also stopped short of explaining just how involved he'll be at FedEx Field this Sunday.
"It's game week. I'm not about to give out any tips," he said. "But I'm feeling good."
Because of NFL rules, the media can only observe a small portion of practice, and with Washington, the timer goes off once warmups conclude and play installation/sharpening commences. According to Rivera, Samuel was fairly active in that phase of the afternoon.
"Watch him catch the ball, watch him burst and turn it up field, watch him catch the ball through traffic, watch him go deep, we got to see all of that today," Rivera said.
Now, what happens next?
Well, the first key is that Samuel will have to show up on Wednesday (the team is off on Tuesday) healthy and ready for more work. Neither he nor the franchise wants him to suffer a setback, which is one reason why his overall rehab has been a bit arduous.
"My goal is when I'm out there, I want to stay out there," he said.
He'll also have to continue to build up his conditioning. Even during some of the solo routes on Monday, he could be seen breathing heavier than his fellow wideouts who've been grinding while he recovered.
Then, come the weekend, it'll be on the coaching staff, training staff and Samuel himself to agree on how much he'll be capable of versus the Chargers. Rivera mentioned the possibility of giving Samuel a certain number of reps — 20 or 25 is what he came up with in his presser — so the pass catcher can devote himself entirely to those as opposed to trying to save energy to get through the full contest.
"We've got to make sure they're good snaps," Rivera said. "When we rotate him in, we can't rotate him in six, seven plays in a row and expect that fifth, sixth, seventh play to be top end. But when you do put him in, you do expect it to be top-end stuff. Realistically, you may see him two, three plays in a row then come out."
The current version of Samuel, and more so the ultimately 100-percent edition, will impact the offense greatly. Rivera and coordinator Scott Turner already understand that, seeing as they had him during their time in Carolina.
Despite that familiarity, Samuel is desperate to put on a uniform and contribute to his maximum abilities.
"It doesn't matter if they know me or not," he said. "I still have a lot to prove."
The chance for him to do so seems to be approaching, and not a moment too soon.