Alex Smith has not played an NFL game in nearly two years, but a week into Washington Football Team's 2020 training camp, he appears within striking distance of his old starting job. Coach Ron Rivera told reporters Tuesday he's been "pleasantly surprised" by Smith's progress in recovery from a once-life-threatening leg injury. Not only that, Rivera explained, but the veteran can "most definitely" compete to be Washington's No. 1 QB, so long as he passes the proper physical tests.
"He's looked good, he really has," Rivera said, per NBC Sports Washington. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."
The 36-year-old Smith reported to camp in somewhat of a surprise move following clearance from his team of surgeons. Sidelined for the entire 2019 season because of tibia and fibula injuries suffered during his debut season in Washington, he quickly went from a roster afterthought to a big wrinkle in the QB room, where Rivera had previously hinted at riding with 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to open his tenure atop the staff.
"I can envision it," Rivera said of Smith battling Haskins for the Opening Day spot. "The big thing is: If he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells ... We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."
With Washington set to open its 2020 season on Sept. 13, there isn't necessarily much time left for Smith to overtake Haskins and reclaim his job. But it's not just Smith's hefty salary ($21.4 million cap hit this season) that could propel the former Pro Bowler back into the lineup. Rivera said Tuesday that offensive coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are including Smith in QB preparations as much as possible, even though Smith is technically not practicing while on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
"I believe he already knows probably 75 percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of, can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"