In recent weeks, both Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Alex Smith noted that the QB's eventual participation in 11-on-11 drills would be a big marker in his progress since returning from a gruesome leg injury in 2018.
On Saturday, Smith took that step, participating in full-team drills at training camp for the first time.
There was no contact in the drills and the team was not dressed in full pads, but that doesn't discredit Smith's accomplishment or the importance of the work. For Rivera, even the non-contact work allows the team -- and Smith himself -- to get a better idea of where his body is at as the season approaches. Though the head coach has admitted that watching Smith go through plays makes him nervous at times, he understands that the only way for the quarterback to truly know what he can do is to let him do it.
"It's to gauge his confidence in himself," Rivera said. "It's an opportunity for us to gauge his total movements with 11 players on both sides, see how it goes. The hope is that in the next few days we can continue to progress with him."
Running back J.D. McKissic, who caught a check down pass from Smith on Saturday, stated that the quarterback's movement on the field looked similar to his pre-injury days. That was a sight that pleased everyone.
"Just seeing him scramble around, running, not favoring anything on his body, playing free." McKissic said. "It's exciting to see. I'm happy for him."
Rivera noted that he hopes Smith will continue to move forward in the coming week and eventually have him work in a full-team, full pads, session. Part of that could include Smith being hit for this first time since the fateful day in 2018. The quarterback has mentioned that it's a prevalent thought in the back of his head, but he won't back down from the challenge.
With roster cuts coming on Sunday, September 6, Smith's future with the Washington Football team isn't clear cut just yet. NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay believes Smith will be the third quarterback on the 53-man roster, and it's clear that the team is making sure that he has the opportunities to showcase he his healthy enough to play.
Saturday's work was a big moment in his journey toward making a comeback that many believed would never happen.
"It's back to 11-on-11, bodies around you," Rivera said. "Sure we were in shells, but the fact that he was doing something with 11 guys on the field at the same time is a big step in the direction we want to head."