The Washington Football Team suffered a potentially crushing blow on Wednesday when standout receiver Curtis Samuel did not practice after tweaking his groin during warmups.
Samuel, who signed a three-year contract with Washington in free agency, missed the entirety of minicamp and almost all of training camp with the injury. He returned to practice on Monday in what appeared to be a positive sign before suffering what was a setback on Wednesday.
With Washington's opener just four days away, Samuel's status for Week 1 is certainly in question. But if the 24-year-old is unable to make his Washington debut on Sunday, both his coaches and teammates are confident that the rest of the receiver room will step up in his absence.
"I'm very confident in the game plan and how those guys fit. I have no concerns about that," head coach Ron Rivera said after practice. "It's a good group. It really is. If Curtis plays, great. If he doesn't, great. We've got a lot of confidence in the other guys."
One specific player that could immediately have a bigger role if Samuel can't play is Dyami Brown, Washington's third-round pick from North Carolina. Brown established himself as a big-play threat with the Tar Heels -- he posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons averaging over 20 yards per catch -- but has also focused on turning into a more complete wideout this summer.
Brown has impressed Rivera, who called the rookie "a big play waiting to happen." He also has stood out to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who said Wednesday how impressed he's been with Brown's development since arriving in Washington.
"He came in very polished," Fitzpatrick said. "We've talked about that, just in terms of his approach, how professional he is, the stuff that he learned, how quickly he did it and how he was able to carry it over to training camp. That kind of stuff, I'm not worried about him at all going out there and making plays."
Fitzpatrick wasn't done praising Brown there, either, saying he expects the rookie to have a big role in Washington's offense, even when Samuel is able to play.
"He'll be a guy that, whoever is in or out of the lineup, that's going to be a guy that makes a lot of plays for us this year," Fitzpatrick said, before delivering a punchline about how UNC missed Brown this past weekend in their loss to Virginia Tech.
While Brown is the most likely wideout to see a bigger role should Samuel miss time, he's far from the only pass-catcher who will. Another is fourth-year veteran Cam Sims, who like Brown has also impressed Rivera. Washington's head coach said he feels "really good" about Sims "without a doubt in [his] mind."
Sims has also impressed Fitzpatrick to such a degree that Washington's new quarterback picked up the phone and called Alex Smith, asking if what he was seeing was correct.
"I reached out to Alex Smith and said 'Alex, I really like Cam Sims. Am I seeing things right?' And I got the same response from him," Fitzpatrick said. "He's so quarterback-friendly. You can put him anywhere. He's a big body, very reliable. He's going to be in the right spot, but he's also a down-the-field guy that's going to be able to make those big plays and go above the rim and get the ball. He's had a great offseason and he's one of my favorites out there."
Another name to keep an eye on is seventh-round rookie Dax Milne, who impressed during training camp and the preseason enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Both Milne and Brown have earned the respect of Washington star Terry McLaurin, who said that neither one of them "play[s] like rookies."
"They're kind of like silent assassins," McLaurin said. "They don't really talk too much, they're not really as loud as I am on the sidelines or anything like that. But they go in there, do their job and they make plays. I have nothing but trust in those two guys that if they're ready to play and they have the opportunity to play, they'll do a good job. ... We're fortunate to have them."
Throughout training camp, Washington's receiver battle was one of the most talked-about storylines. The club entered the season with its deepest wideout room in years and even released a few players with significant NFL experience.
So, even if Samuel is unable to go for Washington on Sunday, McLaurin and the rest of the team are confident that there won't be much of a drop off without him.
"We've got some young guys who have been able to get some reps while he's been out and they've developed really well," McLaurin said. "We have confidence in those guys if Curtis can't go on Sunday." Kickoff is set to take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Coverage begins with Washington Football Kickoff live on NBC Sports Washington and the MyTeams app at 12 p.m. and Washington Football Postgame Live immediately following the game.