“I thought Curtis looked good. He moved around well,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “We didn’t want to go out and overwork him and risk him tightening up or anything like that. We thought the things we asked him to do, he looked pretty good.”
During the early viewing period of practice that is open to the media, the 25-year-old ran routes without a defender. During the closed portion, he took select snaps that would provide a gauge of his progress, Rivera said.
“We got to see him take a limited number of plays, but they’re plays that obviously have him in mind,” Rivera said. “We wanted to make sure we could see the things that we needed to see — watch him catch the ball, watch him burst and turn it upfield, watch him catch the ball through traffic, watch him go deep. I mean, we got to see all that today.”
Perhaps the most significant test of Samuel’s health will come Tuesday. How his body responds to the increased workload could dictate his status for Week 1 and beyond.
“I’m feeling good right now,” he said. “After I leave here, I’ll go back and take care of my body like I’ve been doing for the last couple of days. But my main thing is just staying on top of my body. Just before it gets sore, just keep treating it.”
Rivera has suggested that Samuel will play in some capacity against the Chargers and said the more pressing issue for him now is not necessarily the injury and any related soreness but his conditioning after missing all of minicamp, training camp and the preseason.
While recovering, Samuel relied heavily on running in a pool and on an antigravity treadmill to stay in shape. But being in “football shape” involves reacclimating to certain movements — cutting, quickly stopping, changing speeds and direction — and taking hits.
“He’s going to cut and run the way he does,” Rivera said. “But can he sustain it, and if he can, for how long can he sustain it? Are you going to get 20, 25 really good plays out of him? Are you going to get what would amount to half the snaps? That’s the question that you’re trying to gauge as you watch him in practice.”
For Samuel, returning in full also will require building chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Washington’s other skill players.
“We haven’t been able to get too many reps, but I’m just leaning on him,” Samuel said of Fitzpatrick. “He’s the older guy. Whatever he says, I’m going to try to do my best and run routes as clean as possible, without wasted movement — and score touchdowns.”
When asked if he expects to play Sunday, Samuel declined to make any promises, offering only a “maybe” and: “Who knows? We’re going to see.”
Before Monday, Samuel last practiced with the team in early June during organized team activities, and he spent 10 days away from the squad at the start of training camp in August after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Although he said he didn’t have a stressful bout with the virus, he described his inability to practice the past few months as “frustrating and hard,” and he said the groin injury is one that “happened a while ago” and has “just been lingering.”
His priority in recovery was to avoid rushing back onto the field so he could reduce the risk of further injury and missed time. Samuel wouldn’t say how close he feels to 100 percent — “It’s game week; I’m not about to give all them tips,” he said with a grin — but he reiterated that he felt good after Monday’s workout.
Samuel was a top target for Washington in free agency, and in March he signed a three-year, $34.5 million contract. The team set out to add speed to the roster and find more playmakers to be able to stretch the field, and Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner were familiar with Samuel from their two seasons (2018 and 2019) with him in Carolina. They believed his skill set, as a running back-turned-receiver, would be a boon for Washington’s transitioning offense.
But his role isn’t totally clear — and perhaps intentionally so.
Rivera and his assistants have stressed versatility, especially among skill players on offense. They want running backs who can catch passes out of the backfield and receivers who can run the ball and line up at multiple spots. The more confusion for the defense, the better.
In 2018 and 2019 with Carolina — when Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator for all but four games, in which Scott Turner took over the play-calling — Samuel was primarily an outside deep threat. Last season, with Matt Rhule as the Panthers’ head coach and Joe Brady as their offensive coordinator, Samuel played the majority of his snaps in the slot.
“The best thing about my skill set and my abilities is I can do a lot,” Samuel said. “And not to pat myself on the back, but it is what it is. I’m able to do more things, just because I played running back in college and growing up and then playing receiver a little bit in college and the NFL. When I line up, you can’t say I’m running down the field. You can’t say I’m going short. You can’t say I won’t run the ball out of the backfield. You just don’t know, so you’re just out there guessing.”
Samuel’s main goal this year, he said, is to stay healthy.
“If I’m healthy, I’m playing good, and if I’m playing good, I’m feeling good,” he said. “I have a bunch of confidence. As long as I’m out there, everything will be good.”