ASHBURN — Another day, another significant step for Alex Smith.
The Washington quarterback faced a live pass rush Thursday for the first time since his life-threatening leg injury, taking three snaps in 9-on-9 drills. Smith, whose broken leg in November 2018 required 17 surgeries, saw pressure from two defensive linemen on each play.
While Smith has yet to play in full 11-on-11, the increased workload was a necessary step in Smith’s recovery as Washington needs to evaluate the quarterback’s movement in the pocket.
“It’s about getting comfortable and it’s just another step in the process,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “Hopefully, he’ll continue to grow. We’ll get a chance to look at it. We’ll watch it. I know our trainer will watch it … It is another milestone for Alex. I’m very happy for him, especially the way he works. That’s a huge plus for us and him especially.”
In his three plays, Smith went 1-for-3 with his lone completion to tight end Richard Rodgers.
On the first rep, Smith drew defensive end Nate Orchard offsides and proceeded to throw an incomplete pass to Antonio Gandy-Golden, who almost snagged it before dropping it. Smith’s second throw was a shot down the sideline to Cam Sims, who could not haul in the ball. Then, Smith fired off a bullet to Rodgers near a crowd of defenders.
Upon catching it, Rodgers ran a few yards before rookie linebacker Khaleke Hudson forced a fumble the defense recovered. The play caused the defense to erupt in celebration, with defensive backs coach Chris Harris yelling, “We got one! We got one!”
Rivera had indicated a day earlier that Smith could progress to 9-on-9 work before being thrown into 11-on-11 drills. Rivera said Smith’s movement will be a key indicator of whether he can be cleared for additional work. The team has to see whether Smith can protect himself consistently by evading pass rushers or scrambling outside the pocket, Rivera said.
Smith said Wednesday that he feels like he has made progress in his footwork, saying he feels comfortable in dropping back. But he added his next step will be to show he can handle the “unchoreographed” movements.
“Certainly the time the pocket breaks down, you get pushed back, there’s a thousand and one different scenarios that come up,” Smith said. “It’s hard to drill all those things.”
Rivera, though, had Smith work in 9-on-9 drills in an attempt to replicate those movements. Rivera said he had picked up on the drill during his time with Norv Turner in San Diego.
“I really like it because what it does is — it’s not like 7-on-7 where the quarterback sits back there and holds the ball unrealistically,” Rivera said. “Even though you’re two short in terms of rushers, the quarterback still feels the pressure. The quarterback still has to move away from the pressure, even though he knows where it’s coming from. At least the timeclock in his head is still going on.”