The Washington Football Team — heck, the entire sports world — is in desperate need of some good news, and on Sunday, they got it. Alex Smith, who suffered a life-threatening injury nearly two years ago, didn’t just return to his feet … he’s returning to football.
Before we delve into the X’s and O’s, take a moment to remember what happened with Smith. Back in November 2018, Smith, then in his first year with Washington, crumpled to the ground beneath a Houston Texans rush. His right tibia and fibula — the long bones below the knee — snapped, leaving him writhing in pain. Seventeen surgeries, several serious scares and innumerable prayers later, there was this:
Come on. Regardless of what happens with Smith in the coming weeks, months and years, you’ve got to love the joy of a family moment like that after all the pain they suffered.
Now, to football. Could Smith complete a miraculous resurrection? Could he reclaim the starting job in Washington? Could he — deep breath here — turn Washington into a respectable franchise again?
Yes, yes … and slow down, let’s not get crazy yet.
During his years in San Francisco and Kansas City, Smith slotted comfortably into that second tier of quarterbacks, never quite in the Brees-Brady-Rodgers axis but never in danger of losing his job in camp, either. He put San Francisco in the playoffs for the first time in a decade back in 2011, and he earned Pro Bowl nods three of his six seasons in Kansas City.
Pro Football Reference pegs his career at roughly equivalent to guys like Boomer Esiason, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly, which sounds about right … a couple of bounces here or there, and Smith could have taken either the Niners or Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
As it is, Smith has also achieved a rep as a Jedi knight mentoring two of the more dynamic talents of the last decade, Colin Kaepernick (don’t scream; remember the guy was a revelation his first years in San Francisco) and Patrick Mahomes (you know what happened with him). Could he serve the same role with Washington’s Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen?
Absolutely … but don’t rule out the possibility that he’s coming for their jobs, too.
Smith has been practicing with Washington since early August, and at that time, Washington head coach Ron Rivera gave the kind of measured coach-speak praise you offer when you don’t yet want to commit one way or another.
“He's looked good, he really has," Rivera said. "It's been exciting to watch his progression. He's looked very fluid. It's a tribute to who he is, a tribute to his trainers and his doctors to get to where he is today."
That doesn’t exactly sound like Haskins’ job is in danger. The issue, Rivera noted, is that there’s a huge difference between looking good in reps and looking good when your offensive line is fractured and the Cowboys are swarming you. The lack of preseason games this year is a definite detriment to Smith’s progress back to the QB1 position.
"The big thing is if he can do the things we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the field," Rivera said. "It's a matter of: Can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when on the field? He's going to have to hand the ball off, drop back in the pocket and throw the ball. He's going to have to escape. We have to make sure he can do those things and protect himself as he plays.”
The question for Washington is whether Haskins showed enough in limited duty last season — seven games starting — to warrant the inside track on the starting job. Haskins finished the year with two strong performances, but was that enough to offset concerns about the previous five? Or can Washington afford to be patient with Haskins, since everyone agrees this team is going nowhere fast?
Smith had difficulties adjusting to the playbook of former Washington coach Jay Gruden, but Rivera estimated in early August that Smith had locked down about 75 percent of the current playbook, with Haskins not far behind. Allen was already familiar with Rivera’s proclivities from their time together in Carolina.
The bottom line is this: There will be a quarterback competition. Rivera loves to see this kind of in-the-trenches warfare, to see what kind of a team he has, and it’ll be up to Haskins, Smith and Allen to fight their way out of the pack.
Certainly, Washington doesn’t want the bad PR of dumping Smith after he effectively sacrificed his leg for the team, so he’ll get every chance to prove himself. It’s also noteworthy that Rivera hasn’t yet anointed Haskins, despite every indication that this is a team in the throes of a full rebuild.
So yes, Smith has a chance to win back his old job, maybe even more than a chance. Heck, it wouldn’t be even close to the most miraculous thing he’s done while on the roster.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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