The Washington Football Team has a chance to win the NFC East for the first time since 2015 on Sunday when it plays the Carolina Panthers, but the status for two of its most effective offensive weapons is still unknown.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who is 4-1 as a starter since returning from a gruesome broken leg, is dealing with a calf injury that kept him out of the second half in last week's game against the San Francisco 49ers. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson is nursing a turf toe injury that forced him to miss the 49ers game and the Seahawks game. You can read about their progress ahead of last week's game. HERE.
Smith does not have eye-popping stats during Washington's four-game winning streak, but he has still been playing solid football this season. He has completed 66.4% of his passes for 1,420 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. That has contributed to the offense steadily improving over the past two months, as it has gained at least 300 yards in seven of the past eight games.
Smith looked noticeably off against the 49ers and jogged into the locker room before halftime and has not played since. While he did try to participate in "some of the drills" last Friday, according to head coach Ron Rivera, Smith still felt tightness in his calf and was later ruled out for the Seahawks game.
"For me, it just boils down to being honest with myself," Smith told reporters last Wednesday. "I'm going to do everything I can all week from a treatment and rest standpoint, mentally preparing to get ready. Certainly, there is a point obviously here as the week goes on where decisions have to be made. For me, it's just about being honest. Either you can or you can't."
Gibson, who leads all rookies with 11 touchdowns, was injured in the first quarter of Washington's Week 13 game with the Pittsburgh Steelers after a 13-yard run. Gibson was starting to gain traction as one of the better young running backs in the NFL after rushing for 209 yards in his previous two games. He had scored eight touchdowns in his last five games, three of which came on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys.
Rivera said that Gibson's turf toe is "concerning," especially for his position, but he was looking forward to seeing how Gibson progressed. After not practicing all week and being ruled out for the 49ers game, Gibson participated in some individual drills and worked off to the side with running backs coach Randy Jordan ahead of the Seahawks game. Still, Gibson was listed as doubtful and ended up being inactive.
"Well, as he goes through those things, you'd like to see the progression of going from a leg tempo to a little harder, a little harder, a little harder," Rivera said. "We got to a certain point, but you could tell he didn't want to go a little further. That tells me he's not where we need him to be."
Washington managed to pull out a win over the 49ers without Gibson or Smith, but it was not able to do so against the Seahawks and will face another challenge against the Panthers. Here's how both have progressed throughout the week.
Both players were at practice once again, according to the team's Friday injury report. Gibson was limited for the third straight day, while Smith was a full participant for the first time in two weeks. Both were listed as "Questionable" for Sunday's game against the Panthers.
Although whether Smith will return to the starting lineup Sunday is unknown, the fact that he was a full participant for Friday's practice is an encouraging sign for the 36-year-old signal-caller. Smith tried to do the same thing last Friday when he went through "some of the drills," according to Rivera, but he still felt tightness in his right calf, which led to him being ruled out against the Seahawks.
Should Smith be available and be the starting quarterback, he would return to face a defense that is 19th against the pass, allowing 239.7 yards per game. Smith should also feel minimal pressure against the Panthers, who are 23rd with just 24 sacks this season. It is also a benefit that Carolina could be without defensive end Brian Burns, who did not practice at all this week with a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday.
Gibson was limited for the third straight day, but his progress has also been encouraging. Last Friday, Gibson went through individual drills before working with running backs coach Randy Jordan when his teammates synced up with the quarterbacks. Rivera said he could tell there was a point Gibson felt discomfort in his toe, which ultimately led to him being labeled as doubtful against the Seahawks.
It would seem as if Gibson has not had any noticeable setbacks. Rivera said Thursday that Gibson had a good practice, but he would need to see how he felt the next day before making a decision. If Gibson is available against the Seahawks, he could provide a bump to Washington's running game. In the three games before he was injured against the Steelers, Gibson rushed for 254 yards and six touchdowns.
Smith and Gibson were both at practice once again Thursday, according to the team's public relations department. Both participated in individual drills; Smith threw to receivers, while Gibson went through running back drills with his teammates. Rivera said both players had good days of practice.
Rivera said Smith had a promising day; in a video provided to reporters by the team's PR department, Smith was seen throwing to receivers and going through normal individual drills. He also did some work on the side and participated in some group activities, Rivera said.
Rivera has specifically been encouraged by his movement and stepping into his throws, but he wants to see how Smith feels Friday morning. Smith did a lot of work Thursday, he said, and how feels in the morning will be a good indicator of where he is in his recovery. As far as when Smith would feel good enough to make Rivera comfortable enough to let him play Sunday, Rivera said "that's up to [Smith]."
"He's the only one who knows how he feels. I've asked him to please be honest, and he has. He was smart last week. I'd imagine he'd be smart about it this week."
Gibson continues to show progress after missing the past three games with turf toe. He had another good day, Rivera said, and took a number of reps that the team mapped out for him. He also looked good in his movements, but like Smith, Rivera will know more about Gibson on Friday morning.
"The big thing with him really is being able to plant and cut off of that foot," Rivera said. "That's probably the biggest thing you need to see more so than anything else. Going forward, a straight line, it really doesn't seem to affect him. His quickness and speed are there, but it's being able to have a quick foot, plant it and go off of it. That's the thing you'd have to see to make sure he's OK. It's kind of tough to be inside today after watching him yesterday because when you're inside on the turf you have to be a little more careful about your personal movement, which he was."
Smith and Gibson were both active participants during Wednesday's practice. Gibson participated in some individual drills, while Smith threw passes off to the side during the portion of practice that was open to the media. Both were listed as "Limited" on Wednesday's injury report.
Aside from working separately from the other quarterbacks with trainers during the individual period, Rivera said Smith participated in some of the drills once practice was closed to the media. Given Smith's extensive surgeries to repair his leg, Rivera said the most important factor will be how Smith feels.
"The doctors and the trainers will look at him. They're working with him. Again, he had a really good day today. We'll see how he feels in the morning and go from there. Again, we treat him pretty much like we treat the other guys. As he progresses and gets better and better to the point where he has confidence in it and doesn't feel anything, he'll play if the doctors clear it."
Smith said after practice that he is "absolutely planning on being out there" Sunday against the Panthers. He's doing everything he can to make that a reality, but there is a progression that must happen throughout the week.
"Just taking it literally...but literally just trying to every single day take a step toward Sunday. I felt like today went well. I've still got some treatment to get and to keep going. Then, it's onto tomorrow."
Gibson participated in some practice reps for the second in two weeks, but was still a limited participant. Rivera said after the Seahawks game that he is hopeful Gibson will be ready to play this week, but the team will continue to evaluate his recovery.
"I think his status is we'll see," Rivera said. "We've got three more days of work."