- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Washington’s first day of training camp Tuesday looked nothing like it has in years past. No more Richmond, Va., no more Jay Gruden and most Redskins references and images are on the way out.

In, these days, is the team facility in Ashburn, coach Ron Rivera and lessons on coronavirus protocols.

As part of those NFL rules, players won’t practice in pads until Aug. 17, nearly three weeks from now.

But when Washington finally takes the field, Rivera says he will be watching his quarterbacks closely to see which one separates from the pack.

“It’s going to be pure competition,” Rivera said.

Speaking to reporters during an online video press conference, Rivera said he will monitor the progress of signal-callers Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and even veteran Alex Smith.

Coming off a horrific leg injury from 2018, Smith was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to begin camp, but if he is cleared to practice, Rivera said the 36-year-old will become “part of our equation” in determining a starter.

Rivera’s comments fall in line with the message he has sent for months. But with camp finally open, it was the latest reminder that Haskins, the incumbent starter, will have to earn his spot all over again.

In Allen, Rivera has someone who knows offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme inside and out. The former Panther started 12 games with Carolina last season.

Haskins, meanwhile, has responded to Rivera’s challenges this offseason, dropping weight and organizing offseason workouts with his receivers.

Rivera, though, said the determining factor will be how each passer develops over the next few weeks.

“The one downfall is that we don’t have any preseason games,” Rivera said. “We’re going to have to create as many game-like situations in our practices as possible, so we can get a good evaluation of our quarterbacks.”

As for Smith, his status will come down to whether he can be cleared to participate in practice.

Rivera said Smith did not pass the “football portion” of his physical, and that Washington first needs to see how Smith responds to football movement.

Asked about how quickly a decision could be made to bring Smith in off the PUP list, Rivera said Washington is “pretty confident” in Smith’s rehab. Two years ago, Smith led Washington to a 6-3 start before breaking his leg against the Houston Texans. While not flashy, teammates praised Smith’s calming presence for the club.

“He’s got to pass the football physical for us, but if that happens, I think this is a guy that becomes part of our equation,” Rivera said. “It’s the truth of the matter. He’ll be part of a competition going forward.”

Smith’s progress one of the big storylines in this year’s camp — a circumstance that was hard to imagine when Rivera took the job in January.

These days, Rivera said he finds himself talking to owner Dan Snyder practically every day.

Beyond dealing with the pandemic, as the team’s central voice, Rivera has had to address the team’s name change, the team’s response to George Floyd’s death and the sexual harassment allegations made against five former team officials.

“It didn’t dampen my spirits or my approach to this organization,” Rivera said. “I feel very comfortable, very confident in what we can do here.”

To be successful, Rivera will have to get his quarterback situation sorted. When practice starts, it will be telling how the reps are divided. When Washington faced a quarterback competition last year, former coach Jay Gruden rotated Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and Haskins for weeks until Keenum emerged as the clear cut starter once McCoy aggravated his leg injury and Haskins struggled.

Without the preseason, Washington’s coaching staff won’t have fresh game tape to evaluate. To make up for it, Rivera said his team will have to push harder in practice — having more sessions that involve live hitting and tackling. (Even during those periods, quarterbacks are hardly touched.)

Rivera said players will be graded on everything — from the way they handle themselves to how they practice to even how they interact with media.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Rivera said. “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to not be as fair as it used to be because of the situations and circumstances. … We’re going to create as many situations to grade these guys off of.”

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