ASHBURN — As Curtis Samuel sprinted in motion, the Washington Commanders wide receiver slipped on the wet grass and tumbled to the ground while the rest of the play unfolded.
Samuel bounced right up. But — after an injury-filled 2021 — he understood why people might have worried for a second or two.
“I be on the ground all the time,” Samuel said with a smile. “I’m not really worried about that. I know everyone else probably be scared.”
Samuel was in a jovial mood after Tuesday’s practice — something that wasn’t always the case last year when he met with reporters. Yes, Samuel spent much of the session again talking about his health — a topic that seemed to wear on him as last year progressed.
But this time, Samuel focused on how good he felt. After being sidelined with groin and hamstring injuries, the 25-year-old said he’s now “100%” healthy.
Samuel’s play on the field suggests the wide receiver isn’t just saying that to quell concerns, either. Compared to a year ago, Sameul’s speed appears to have completely returned — he’s accelerating in and out of cuts, easily creating separation.
Simply put, Samuel looked a lot more like the player Ron Rivera coached in Carolina before signing him to a three-year, $34.5 million contract to reunite in Washington.
“I know who Curtis is,” Rivera said. “We drafted him in Carolina and saw the success he had. So, we believe his skill fits what we want to do. We believe it fits very well. We think he’s a guy that, as he continues to progress and gets healthier and healthier every day, there’ll be some good things for us with him in our offense.”
According to Samuel, it’s not that the injuries sapped him of his speed. It was more a matter of being tentative because of concerns about getting injured again. That makes sense, given the number of setbacks the wideout experienced over the course of his first year with Washington.
Samuel, for those who don’t recall, suffered a setback just before Washington’s season-opener last year against the Los Angeles Chargers — leading the Commanders to put him on injured reserve. Then, after Samuel initially returned in Week 4, he aggravated his groin a week later and only played five snaps. He missed another five games, came back for three weeks and then suffered a season-ending hamstring injury.
In total, Samuel finished the year with just one more catch (six) than games played (five). His 27 receiving yards were a career-low.
During this offseason, though, Samuel said he learned to get past his trepidation. While training in Miami, Samuel says he was pushed to his limit as part of his rehab. The heavy workload gave him the confidence, he says, that his body was recovering. Suddenly, Samuel could cut sharp once again.
“After doing that, I knew I could pretty much do anything,” Samuel said.
The test now will be if Samuel can stay healthy over the course of a year. In five years, he’s only played every game in a season just once (2019). That year, coincidentally, was Rivera’s last with the Panthers. Rivera was fired in December, but Samuel finished with a career-high six touchdowns.
At the very least, Rivera said he believes Samuel can finally put his nagging groin injury behind him.
“Hopefully it’s gonna continue to trend up,” Rivera said.