Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has had one clear goal in mind ever since suffering a gruesome leg injury last November against the Houston Texans: to play football again.
Several months later, that goal remains the same for Smith, even though his injury will prevent him from playing at all in 2019. But he's been as active as possible during training camp, appearing at almost every practice and working with the quarterbacks as much as possible.
“It’s definitely a different role for me, a different capacity," Smith told the Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael during a sit-down interview on Monday. "I’m loving being down here; I’m glad I came down. This whole experience for me has kind of been flexible with my rehab and coming back. I made the decision to come down here and I’m really happy with it. It’s nice to be around the guys. Selfishly for me, it’s helped me pass some time. I’ve been getting good work in, but at the same time, obviously a different role, almost like a coach a little bit, especially with the quarterbacks.”
The first several months of his recovery have not been easy on Smith. He just recently had an external fixator -- a metal contraption that held multiple bones in his leg in place -- removed, and is unable to move around without crutches. His leg is still wrapped in a cast from his foot to just below his knee. While he's made tremendous progress, Smith still has a long way to go before putting on a helmet and pads even becomes a thought.
Despite all this, Smith insists that he's doing well.
"I’m doing well. I am," Smith said. "I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been. I’ve continued to progress. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated what this road would be like, I don’t think I knew what it would be like. It’s longer than I thought. But like I said, I’m still progressing and really optimistic about what is ahead of me.”
Considering the long and difficult road the quarterback has endured during his recovery, hearing Smith speak those words has to be a positive sign in his recovery.
But Smith must remember that this recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. And staying patient has been one of the things that the quarterback has had to learn the hard way.
"Learning a little bit of patience," Smith said on the hardest part of his recovery. "You learn that with injuries and things like that, especially something like this. Being a little more patient, being flexible."
Part of being patient meant not becoming obsessed with the timeline of his recovery, especially with an injury like his, where that timeline can be completely off and change at any moment.
"I got my head set on certain timelines, and then you realize those aren’t really set in stone and very flexible and moving," he said. "So getting accustomed to that and just trying to get the most out of every day, stay short-sighted and not get ahead of myself.”
When asked about what has helped him fight through everything he's had to endure since suffering the injury, he emphasized his support system, specifically his wife.
"First off, I knew I had an amazing wife, but this has really proven it for me," he said. "She has shouldered the load, not only what I’ve had to go through, but the family. I’m obviously very grateful for her and our entire support system."
Besides his wife, the Redskins organization as a whole has continued to help their quarterback during his recovery process.
"[The team has] been there for me," Smith said. "This has been such a unique situation, and the way they’ve handled it, everybody has been there for me and allowed me to go about my business. It’s been really great. It’s nice to finally be back in the team environment, around the guys. I’ve missed that for quite a while now.”
Smith has been at the Redskins' facilities plenty in recent weeks. He's been working with the training staff and has gotten back in the weight room.
He was seen bench pressing recently, and he's even thrown the football around a little bit while seated.
"Thankfully I’m not limited to some of the upper body workouts," Smith said. "So [Redskins strength and conditioning coach] Chad [Englehart] and the crew in there, we get after it every single day. Those guys have been very creative as far as mixing it up for me, and I enjoy that."
When suffering a gruesome injury like Smith's, it puts a lot into perspective. Football itself wasn't the only thing taken away from the quarterback; Smith could not walk, workout, or even perform many day-to-day activities that most people take for granted.
"When you get that stuff taken away from you for a little while, you forget what it’s like, and how much I enjoy just actually breaking a sweat and getting some work in," Smith said. "So that’s been a nice release for me.”
The end of Smith's recovery may still be a long ways away, but he's beginning to at least see some of the light at the end.
Whether he plays football again is still in question, but one thing is for certain: Smith won't go down without a fight.
"I think just even being out here, getting that itch," Smith said on what continues to drive him. "The older you get, you realize how precious these situations are; that it’s not going to last forever, and trying to make the most of it. You only have so many years left, and to have this challenge set out in front of me. I mean, how often do you get a challenge like that to overcome? And for me to take it on and not worry about anything else.”
When asked if his goal was still to come back, Smith was very confident and direct with his answer.
"Without a doubt," he said. "Just for the challenge sake, and for life. I still feel like I’m young at heart and got a lot left ahead of me. I want to take that on.”
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