A wrinkle was thrown into the plan at quarterback for the Washington Football Team last Friday when Alex Smith's personal doctors cleared him for football activity. Smith, of course, has not played since November of 2018, where he suffered a gruesome injury, one that nearly cost him his leg.
Smith did not pass the physical from Washington's team doctors when he arrived this week, meaning he will begin training camp on the active PUP (physically unable to perform) list. The passer can come off that list at any point during camp.
However, even when Smith does come off that list, there's no certainty he'll be ready to return to live NFL action. In a Zoom call with local reporters on Thursday, Washington QB coach Ken Zampese said that Smith won't truly be in the mix at the position until the passer can protect himself.
"Physically, the first thing we have to find out is can he protect himself? We'll figure that out as we go," Zampese said. "If he passes the certain criteria to get to the next level of getting himself back to the field, we'll figure those things out as we go. When it gets to the point where he gets to practice, we'll find out."
Optimism surrounding Smith's future as an NFL quarterback appears to be higher than ever. On Tuesday, Washington head coach Ron Rivera admitted that once Smith does become fully healthy, he no doubt factors into the team's decision at QB.
Yet, this year's modified training camp due to the coronavirus pandemic will make it even more difficult for Washington to assess Smith's progress. Padded practices don't begin for another few weeks. There are no preseason games this year (it's unsure -- and probably unlikely -- that Smith would have appeared in those anyway).
For Zampese, Rivera and the rest of Washington's coaching staff, they'll only have practice sessions to figure out if Smith can truly return to action.
"We'll be able to see through some of the drill work, how quickly he can move out of the way, slide," Zampese said. "We'll also be in 11-on-11 where there's no contact, and there will be guys that come clean on the rush. How [he] moves in the pocket, how [he] can accelerate away from a free rusher, those kinds of things. We'll use all of that to determine the next step from there."
Prior to his career-threatening injury, Smith had a long and mostly successful career in the NFL. Zampese believes those past experiences will help the passer out mentally when he does get to a physical point where he's able to play again.
"I think the other things will come back very smoothly. You don't lose the experience you've had playing the position," Zampese said. "Some of those things will be like riding a bike, and others won't be. We'll jump through all those hoops when the time comes. I'm really excited about that."
Even without Smith currently in the mix, Washington has its own quarterback battle between second-year passer Dwayne Haskins and new arrival Kyle Allen.
Haskins is more naturally talented between the two (and the presumptive favorite to win the job), but Allen has experience playing in Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense. Allen already knows the language of Turner's system, something Zampese stressed multiple times throughout his media session. Rivera has already said he's looking forward to the "pure competition" between the two.
While Smith will begin camp watching Haskins and Allen battle it out from the sidelines, Zampese said the veteran has been a great example for the two younger quarterbacks.
"It's a great example that he sets for the rest of the guys," Zampese said. "He could very easily be like 'I know this' or 'It's done like this,' but he's not like that at all. He's fantastic. He's a great example for the other guys."
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