Smith earlier told reporters that he is “absolutely planning on being out there,” and his progress over the course of the week suggests he is on a path toward doing so.
Yet Coach Ron Rivera may choose not to reveal the starter before the game as he waits to see how Smith’s calf responds to the added work. As a contingency plan, Dwayne Haskins spent the majority of the week preparing to start for the second consecutive game. Should he get the call again, the offense will be tailored more toward his strengths, just as it was in a loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks.
“We kind of prepared that way last week because we weren’t sure,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “We had a good feel for what those guys do. It’s kind of a little bit of — I wouldn’t say multiple game-planning — but just a little bit more expansive where you can get to some things with one guy or other things with the others. It is what it is and something that we have to work through and be ready for both of those guys to play.”
Just as significant is the doubtful status of wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who did not practice all week because of an ankle injury. McLaurin has been on the injury report with the ankle issue since Week 11 and has played through the discomfort, but the pain became noticeable as he hobbled in between routes Sunday.
Losing McLaurin would be a significant blow to Washington as it pushes for the NFC East title. With 1,108 yards from scrimmage, McLaurin has accounted for 24.9 percent of the team’s offense and gotten 25.4 percent of its receiving targets.
The depth of the wide receiving corps was limited from the outset this season, and injuries have it strained further. Cam Sims emerged as the No. 2 behind McLaurin, but the depth behind him — with Isaiah Wright, Steven Sims Jr., Dontrelle Inman and Robert Foster — has been inconsistent. Washington could, however, get a boost by activating Antonio Gandy-Golden. The rookie has missed the past eight games while on injured reserve, but he returned to practice Dec. 10 and has progressed from taking mostly scout-team reps to rejoining the offense. Washington has until Thursday to activate him off IR if he is to play the rest of the season.
“He had another good day of practice,” Rivera said Thursday. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow, and then we’ll see how he is Saturday, and then we’ll make a decision on that.”
Rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who suffered turf toe Dec. 7 against Pittsburgh, was also listed as questionable, as was linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle). And veteran linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. was ruled out with a knee injury.
Gibson was a limited participant all week in practice, a sign of notable progress in his recovery. But Rivera urged caution with both him and Smith, saying their availability would depend on how they feel after a week of increased work.
The injuries and uncertainty at key positions add another element of intrigue to Sunday’s game, which has playoff implications for Washington. With a win and a New York Giants loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Washington will clinch the NFC East and head to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
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