- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2020

Washington quarterback Alex Smith took his biggest step yet Saturday in his recovery from his life-threatening leg injury, taking part in 11-on-11 drills for the first time in nearly two years. The team gave Smith three reps in a red zone drill, facing a live pass rush.

In three plays, Smith handed the ball off twice and then threw it to running back J.D. McKissic for five yards. Washington was not in pads Saturday, so there was no contact.

But coach Ron Rivera called it a “very big step” for the 35-year-old.

“Sure, we were in shells (Saturday), but just the fact that was doing something with 11 guys on the field at the same time I think is a big step in the direction that we all want to head,” Rivera said. “We’ll see how things unfold, we’ll see how he feels (Sunday) and we’ll go from there.”

Smith, of course, broke his leg in November 2018, an injury that required 17 surgeries and almost cost him his life after he developed an infection in the hospital. But the quarterback is determined to resume his career.

After passing his physical nearly two weeks ago, the three-time Pro Bowler had progressed his way to working in 9-on-9 drills. Washington has wanted to see how Smith responds in the pocket and the team used 9-on-9 drills as a way to evaluate his footwork with defensive linemen coming at him.

The next step for Smith will be to play in 11-on-11 with pads on. That will be the closest thing to replicating real speed and it’s a necessary hurdle for Smith to clear.

Rivera said he’d like to see Smith be placed in that situation in the coming week, though didn’t commit to it fully.

“It’s really just to gauge his confidence in himself,” Rivera said. “It’s an opportunity for us to gauge where he is in total movements with 11 players on the field on both sides. We’ll see how it goes. The hope is in the next few days, we’ll continue to progress with him.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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