- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2020

With the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera rarely had to worry about the quarterback position. Upon the coach’s hiring, Cam Newton was drafted first overall, blossomed into a league MVP and was a steady force until injuries sidelined him for portions of the last two years.

That’s not a luxury Rivera has in Washington.

Less than 24 hours removed from his team’s 23-20 loss to the New York Giants, Rivera was ready to move on with Alex Smith as his starter after Kyle Allen suffered a dislocated ankle — making the 36-year-old the third quarterback to start for Washington this season. Allen met with team doctors Monday and is expected to undergo surgery soon that will reportedly sideline him for four months.

At the halfway point of the season, Rivera admitted the quarterback carousel has left him and his coaches still having to answer a crucial question: Is the team’s franchise quarterback on the roster?

“Is our franchise quarterback here?” Rivera said. “Is he on the roster? Is he being developed, or is he somewhere else? Again, we’ll continue to go through that and look at it and evaluate it and see exactly where we are.”



Typically, when a coach says that out loud, the answer is no.

But Rivera said it was important for Washington to still go through the process of seeing what it has under center. For now, Rivera turns to Smith — not 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins — as his 2-6 team clings onto its pursuit of a painstakingly bad NFC East. “It’s still a close race,” Rivera said. (The Philadelphia Eagles lead the division at 3-4-1.)

Starting with Sunday’s game in Detroit, Smith, barring injury, will likely get an extended audition to show he can be a capable NFL quarterback two years after suffering a life-threatening leg injury. Past this season, Smith is under contract for two more years with cap hits of $23 million and $25 million.

Washington, however, can release Smith after this year with only $8.6 million in dead money as his final two base salaries aren’t guaranteed.

In his most recent relief appearance, the three-time Pro Bowler threw for more yards (325) than he did in any of his games for Washington in 2018. But he threw three interceptions — two of which came in the final minutes to seal New York’s win.

Smith’s performance was a dramatic improvement from his first outing of the year — a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in which he threw for 37 yards on 2.1 yards per attempt. After Sunday’s loss, Smith said he felt the rust coming off.

“I wasn’t thinking about my foot out there, my leg, just playing,” Smith said. “ I feel more comfortable. … No question, I really felt good moving around. Making things happen and playing faster.”

That leaves Haskins behind Smith. Despite trade speculation, Washington held onto the 23-year-old past last week’s trade deadline. Now, Haskins will be active Sunday for the first time since his demotion.

On Monday, Rivera elaborated on what he wants to see out of Haskins over the rest of the season. Haskins, he said, should closely watch how Smith prepares for games and follow his work ethic.

Rivera said Smith reminded him of Philip Rivers, who routinely arrived at the facility at 5 a.m. and was among the last to leave. “Those are the types of guys that have success and have long careers,” said Rivera, who overlapped with Rivers in San Diego.

The comments were the closest Rivera has gotten to acknowledging that Haskins’ benching last month was for reasons beyond his in-game performance. Dating back to his rookie year, Haskins has faced questions about his work ethic and they surfaced again when he was demoted to third string.

Rivera said he believes Haskins has NFL-level arm talent, but wants him to become a “more astute player and student of the game.” Rivera said young quarterbacks must come to understand the importance of their preparation.

“A lot of times, guys will rely on their great talent,” Rivera said. “That talent will get you by for a while, but there’s a point in everybody’s career where everything catches up to talent.

“The only thing that separates it are the guys that work the hardest.”

 

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

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