- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2020

Twenty months after suffering a life-threatening leg injury, Washington quarterback Alex Smith passed a physical given by team doctors Monday, but will open training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Being on the list means Smith can’t practice with teammates, but he can work to the side with trainers and participate in meetings — and could be pressed into an active role anytime during camp. It’s another step in the 36-year-old’s remarkable attempt to return to the game after suffering a horrific broken leg in November 2018 against the Houston Texans.

Training camp opens Tuesday. But under the NFL’s coronavirus protocols, teams will not actually be allowed to practice until Aug. 12, following a ramp-up period that focuses on strength and conditioning.

On Friday, ESPN reported that Smith has received medical clearance from his own team of doctors to return to full football activity. But Smith still needed Washington’s approval, which he partially received Monday.

A source said Smith was not cleared for “full football activity,” but will now have time to acclimate his body back into football shape.

If Smith can still play, Washington will likely work him into the fold slowly. The team needs to see how Smith’s leg will respond to workouts day in and day out, and whether his passing ability is anywhere near the same as it was before the injury.

After all, Smith is attempting to make a comeback many thought impossible. When speaking to reporters in January, the 16-year vet said there “isn’t really a blueprint” in returning from his specific type of injury.

Smith’s recovery was complicated — he needed 17 surgeries, battled an infection and went into septic shock at one point. An ESPN documentary in April revealed doctors considered amputating the injured leg to stave off the infection.

Despite the complications, Smith is determined to resume his career. The three-time Pro Bowler has made progress along the way — from having his external fixator removed in July 2019 to throwing on Washington’s practice field again in the fall of 2019.

Smith told ESPN that recent X-rays of his leg showed that his bone was in a “really good place” and that he had “zero limitations” physically.

“To hear them say that, from a life standpoint, they wouldn’t restrict me from doing anything — I could go skiing or snowboarding tomorrow if I wanted — then on top of that, to get the green light that I could practice, get contact, that I had healed up, that much was pretty wild to hear,” Smith said. “I didn’t know if I would ever hear those words.”

From a salary-cap standpoint, Smith carries a $20.3 million hit this season, guaranteed whether he plays a down or not.

Washington traded for Smith in 2018 to replace Kirk Cousins, giving the veteran signal-caller a four-year, $94 million extension. But after the injury, Washington pivoted to Dwayne Haskins, drafting the Ohio State star as the franchise’s quarterback of the future.

If Smith is still on the PUP list to begin the regular season, he will not be eligible to play for at least the first six games. After six games, a team has three weeks to decide to activate a player on the list or make another transaction — such as placing him on injured reserve or releasing him.

In May, coach Ron Rivera laid out what it would take for Smith to be able to participate in practice.

“The one thing that he and I talked about, more than anything else, is he’s got to be able to protect himself out on the football field before anything can happen, before we can allow him back on the field,” Rivera told NBC.

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