- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2020

ASHBURN —  When Kyle Allen takes the field Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, the pressure to perform, and perform immediately, will be inescapable. After coach Ron Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins for Allen, he made it clear his new starter will be evaluated game by-game. No promises.

The expectation that a change at quarterback can fix what ails the team puts Alex Smith that much closer to completing his miraculous return.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in the nearly two years since his horrific leg injury — Smith will be active when Washington hosts the Los Angeles Rams. Smith will suit up as Allen’s backup, meaning Rivera could turn to him at any point. Washington has cleared Smith for contact, and Rivera said the veteran continues to make strides in his recovery.

“Knowing that he’s been cleared to play and then watching him working, especially the last couple weeks, has been outstanding,” Rivera said. “I just have no trepidation having him come in and play if that’s what happens.”

Rivera has voiced support for Allen, telling reporters that he believes the switch can help jolt an offense that ranks 30th in points per game. The two were together in Carolina, where the 2018 undrafted free agent made 13 starts across two seasons (one in 2018, 12 in 2019). Rivera said he sees Allen as a game manager with big-play potential, adding his knowledge of the offense will be key.

But there isn’t much room for error. By making the switch at quarterback, Rivera is chasing short-term gains, with the NFC East up for grabs. The 1-2-1 Philadelphia Eagles lead the division and Washington has three pivotal divisional games against the Giants, Cowboys and Giants upcoming after the Rams.

Smith has experience taking Washington to the top of the NFC East. Before he got hurt, Smith led Washington to a 6-3 start with wins over the Cowboys and the Giants in that span. The three-time Pro Bowler wasn’t electric — the offense still struggled in Smith’s first year under Jay Gruden — but Smith’s limited mistakes put Washington in a position to win.

Smith, too, is well-versed in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme, a variation of the “Air Coryell” offense. The 36-year-old played in the system in San Francisco, including under Turner’s father Norv in 2006. Rivera said Smith’s familiarity with the offense is why he elected to make the veteran the backup over Haskins.

Asked why he didn’t name Smith the starter over Allen, Rivera said he made the decision because Washington was still “working Alex back into it.” Smith has yet to be hit in practice and his workload hadn’t been extensive as the third-string quarterback.

Most teams have a policy not to hit quarterbacks in practice, Washington included. That means Smith’s first hit since the injury will come in a game.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, too, said he doesn’t expect defenses to ease up on Smith just because of his past.

“As messed up as it sounds, if you’re on the field, you have to be responsible to defend yourself,” Jonathan Allen said. “If he’s not healthy enough to take a hit — a legal hit — then he shouldn’t be playing. And I think he’s more than healthy enough to take a hit.

“There’s no nice way to do what we do. It’s a dangerous game. There’s no safe way to play it.”

Smith’s teammates have expressed amazement at the progress the signal-caller has made. Some, like Jonathan Allen, have seen him at nearly every step of the way — from the moment he went down against the Houston Texans to Thursday, when Smith took snaps as the backup.

“I’d be more surprised if he didn’t come back from the injury he came from, just knowing the kind of player he is, what kind of personality he has, what kind of work ethic he has, “ the defensive lineman said. “I’m not surprised at all. If he needed to play, he could definitely do it. And he could do it at a high level. I have all the faith in him.”

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