ASHBURN — To understand why some Washington fans are freaking out about wide receiver Curtis Samuel’s groin injury, just look at the team’s recent past.
There was Paul Richardson, the five-year, $40 million man who played only 17 of 32 games in two years. Josh Doctson, the team’s 2016 first-round pick, missed all but two games of his rookie season due to a mysterious nerve injury and was a bust in the years that followed. Not even DeSean Jackson, productive as he was, could manage to play a full 16-game slate with the franchise.
So, it’s no wonder the fans are worried after Samuel — Washington’s latest high-profile reach at the wideout position — missed almost all of training camp because he was hurt. Did the team really sign another injury-riddled bust?
Less than 10 days out from Washington’s season opener, Samuel still isn’t practicing, but coach Ron Rivera said Thursday he’s optimistic that the 25-year-old will be ready for Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers at FedEx Field. Rivera said he anticipates Samuel, who signed a three-year, $34.5 million contract in March, to practice starting Monday.
“We’re feeling very confident,” Rivera said. “He’s had some really good days out there on the side (field). Every morning, he comes in, he’s feeling better and better. So we expect to have him and ready to go out there with his teammates, starting Monday.”
To recap, the last time Samuel fully practiced was in late May. On June 2, Rivera said the fifth-year wideout felt a “twinge” in his groin and that the team was being cautious. But Samuel did not participate in the following week’s mandatory minicamp and the situation did not appear to improve when training camp started in late July.
When camp opened, Samuel was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Matters were further complicated when Samuel was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list — a list he was on for the next 10 days. Samuel was activated from the reserve list on Aug. 9, but still appeared to be a ways from practicing.
Finally, on Aug. 15, Samuel was activated off the PUP list and participated in individual drills — a sign that the groin injury was improving. Since then, however, Samuel has been relegated to the side field, working with trainers to regain his conditioning.
Through the entire process, Rivera, his staff and players have maintained an upbeat tone regarding Samuel. Rivera said Thursday that Samuel’s injury was further complicated because of the wideout’s speed. “Guys who run fast, who are speedsters take a little bit longer,” Rivera said.
One of the reasons Washington hasn’t expressed much concern publicly is that Samuel is already well-versed in the team’s offense. Before joining Washington, Samuel spent his first four years with the Carolina Panthers — including three with Rivera.
Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner held the same role in Carolina near the end of the 2019 season, and succeeded his father, Norv. Samuel had a career-high six touchdowns that season.
“We have some stuff (in our offense) that we haven’t done too much of that we’ll get to once he gets back, I’m eager to do it,” Turner said last month, discussing Samuel’s return. “But other than that, it won’t be an adjustment for our guys. It’s just a matter of him being healthy.”
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t seem concerned, either. The 17-year veteran said if he was younger, then it might take more time to get used to Samuel sliding into the lineup.
But with this being Fitzpatrick’s ninth team, the signal-caller has thrown to hundreds of receivers over the years.
“Curtis is a guy I’ve watched a lot of film on,” Fitzpatrick said. “ I’ve seen him play plenty and I’m excited for him to get out there and throw it to him, but I don’t think it’ll take much time at all.”
If there is a reason to be skeptical of Washington’s “Kumbaya,” nothing-to-see-here attitude, it’s that so far Samuel hasn’t hit any of the possible return dates floated out by Rivera. On Aug. 8, Rivera said it would “be great” if Samuel could play in Washington’s third preseason game, then 20 days out. Last week, on Aug. 25, Rivera said he was “pretty optimistic” Samuel would practice this week.
Neither of those things happened.
Washington, though, avoided putting Samuel on the PUP list (a minimum of six games out) or injured reserve (minimum of three) to start the season — an indication that the team is actually confident he will return sooner rather than later.
For Samuel to play against the Chargers, Rivera said the speed threat must be 100%. He shot down the idea that Samuel would be on a limited snap count, a tactic occasionally reserved for some players who come back from injuries.
“It’ll be an all or nothing,” Rivera said. “He‘ll either be ready, which would be great. And if he‘s not ready, great, we have guys that we feel comfortable with that can do some of the things that he does.”