ASHBURN — Curtis Samuel’s first practice of training camp didn’t seem like much. The wide receiver ran routes at half-speed during individual drills, caught a few passes and then trotted over to the side field to work with a trainer when team drills began.
That was very much by design.
Washington activated Samuel, the team’s prized offseason signing, off the Physically Unable to Perform list Sunday — but the team plans to slowly work the wide receiver back into the fold. Coach Ron Rivera made no guarantees the 25-year-old would play in the preseason, telling reporters Samuel will work with head trainer Ryan Vermillion to rehabilitate a groin injury.
Samuel’s return was still a positive sign for Washington, which hadn’t seen Samuel practice since May during OTAs. Samuel, who signed a three-year, $34.5 million deal in March, also missed a portion of camp after he was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list.
“[The plan] is continuing to work on the side until he feels comfortable and ready to roll,” Rivera said Sunday. “As soon as RV gives us the all ready to go and then we’ll get him going, he‘ll be out in the walkthroughs, he‘ll get a chance to see those things and work with the guys a little bit there.
“It’s just a matter of time.”
Washington is planning on Samuel being a big part of the offense in 2021. After all, Rivera and company know first-hand what the wideout can do as they spent three years together in Carolina with the Panthers. Samuel, Carolina’s second-round pick in 2017, scored a career-high six touchdowns in 2019 under Rivera.
The familiarity is why Rivera has expressed little concern about Samuel’s ability to contribute once the wideout finally starts practicing in 11-on-11 and playing in games. After previously suggesting Samuel might make an appearance in the team’s third preseason game on Aug. 28, Rivera said he doesn’t necessarily need to see Samuel in the lineup until Week 1.
“I feel very comfortable with who he is as a football player,” Rivera said. “I appreciate who he is. He‘ll be out there. It’s just going to take a little bit of time.”
Ahead of Samuel’s return, Washington made three roster moves Sunday — cutting wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, running back Lamar Miller and cornerback Chris Miller. Of those, Harmon’s departure may be the most notable given the 23-year-old was a sixth-rounder in 2019.
But Harmon was coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for all of last season. When he returned from the injury, he found himself in a crowded wide receiver room — buried on the depth chart. In Thursday’s 22-13 loss to the New England Patriots, Harmon played primarily with the third-team and took the field for only 13 offensive snaps.
Samuel’s pending return just adds another body competing for playing time, so Rivera made the decision to move on from Harmon now.
“Kelvin’s going to get opportunities (elsewhere),” Rivera said. “We have a very good room right now and some of the decisions we made today were based on giving guys an opportunity out there right now.”