Washington head coach Ron Rivera addressed the local media via Zoom on the first day of training camp at the Inova Sports Performance Center. Here are five takeaways from his Tuesday morning press conference.
1. He explained why Alex Smith and Reuben Foster were placed on the PUP list.
The Washington Football Team made several roster moves Monday morning, most notably placing quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Reuben Foster on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
Both have had a good offseason, Rivera said, but the team wants to monitor them as they take the next steps towards returning to the field.
"You can go out and work out and do all you want going straight ahead and sideways," Rivera said, "but we've got to see the actual football movements before we clear them."
Smith, who has gone through a 20-month long rehab from a broken leg he suffered in 2018, was cleared by his own surgical team for full football activity Friday. He wants to "prove to himself and certainly to everybody else" that he is able to practice.
Foster, meanwhile, missed the entire 2019 campaign after tearing his ACL and LCL during OTAs last May.
Rivera said Smith and Foster look "extremely well," and he's confident both will pass the football portion of their physicals at some point. However, he also stressed the importance of monitoring their progress.
"We have to see how their injuries react," Rivera said. "This is all a part of being able to pass a football physical."
2. He believes there will be competition at the quarterback position.
Rivera has said that the team is going into training camp believing Dwayne Haskins Jr. will be the starting quarterback. However, Rivera has consistently pointed out that there will still be a competition between Haskins and former Carolina Panthers signal-caller Kyle Allen.
Rivera still feels there will be a "pure competition" between Haskins and Allen, although this year's training camp will alter how each player is evaluated.
"I think the big thing more so than anything else is going to be about how each guy develops over time," Rivera said. "One downfall is we don't have any preseason games, so, again, we're going to have to try to create as many game-like situations in our practices as possible so that we can get a good evaluation of our quarterbacks."
Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner have praised Haskins' development over the summer. He shed 7% of his body fat and has tried to be a leader during Zoom meetings.
However, Allen has more experience working with Turner, who was the Panthers' quarterbacks coach in 2019 before being promoted to interim offensive coordinator for the final four games.
The other factor to consider is Smith's potential return to practice. Smith can be taken off the PUP list at any time, and Rivera confirmed that if Smith can resume football activity, then he becomes "part of the equation."
"We compete. That is the truth of the matter," Rivera said. "He's got to pass the football physical for us. And if that happens...he'll be part of a competition going forward."
3. He discussed his plans for the wide receiver position.
Training camp has just begun, yet the receiver group has already taken a hit. Kelvin Harmon was placed on the Non-Football Injury list, while Cody Latimer was placed on the Commissioner's Exempt list.
The position group, which includes Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims Jr. and Antonio Gandy-Golden, is certainly talented, but it also lacks experience. With Latimer unavailable, Trey Quinn and Cam Sims are the only receivers who have been in the NFL for more than two seasons.
When it comes to evaluating depth at the position, Rivera said "that's something we're going to look at."
"We've got four days with the quarterbacks coming up and then a few days after that we'll have eight days of pretty much a ramp-up period where we'll really get the chance to look at our guys and see what we have and make a determination. It won't be a practice, but it'll be a workout where we'll be able to watch these guys."
There are several free agent wide receivers available should Washington decide to bring in more depth to the position. Some of the notable names include Demaryius Thomas, Tavon Austin, Chris Hogan and Josh Gordon. However, any decisions on signing additional receivers will likely be made after the coaching staff gets a look at the players already on the roster.
"If there was a position that we are concerned with in terms of being able to bring more guys on, it's most certainly that position," Rivera said.
4. He wants the defense to have a "championship-caliber" attitude.
Washington strengthened its defense by drafting Chase Young No. 2 overall, but there were already lofty expectations for the unit heading into training camp. Aside from boasting five former first-round picks on the defensive line, there are young, talented players throughout the roster who received significant playing time last year.
Rivera doesn't know how all the players are going to mesh, but he does the unit's potential.
"I think the attitude and the philosophy going forward is championship caliber," he said. "We are going to be physical. We are going to be aggressive and we are not going to sit back. We want our defensive line going vertical on their way to the quarterback playing the run."
Rivera feels "very comfortable and confident" in the first-rounders on the defensive line, but he also likes the other players like Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle, both of whom were taken on Day 3 of their respective drafts.
Rivera also likes the group of safeties led by Landon Collins, and he believes the linebackers are going to be "downhill, aggressive tacklers behind the line of scrimmage."
"We have a lot of guys that have had a lot of success. How are they going to mesh? How is the line going to impact our coverage?"
5. He stressed the importance of the new training camp protocols.
This year's training camp will be unlike any other in league history. Preseason games have been scrapped from the schedule, and in their place is a gradual "ramp up" period so players can get in shape before participating in padded practices.
The NFL is also implementing new safety measures to prevent a potential COVID-19 breakout, and Rivera wants his team to be "really careful and smart" as they prepare to navigate through the rest of the year.
"I think it comes down to being disciplined as a group and as an organization and as individuals," Rivera said. "You have to be disciplined to understand that you can't go out and not follow the protocols. You have to wear a mask. You have to wash your hands. You have to properly distance yourself from one another."
Rivera said the pandemic could have an impact on the players because the team has been unable to hold OTAs this offseason. He experienced a similar situation in 2011 during the NFL lockout, when players weren't allowed into team facilities until training camp began. That's why he thinks the "ramp up" period, which was part of a recent agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, is a "heck of an idea."
"I think if we do things right and we take advantage of the way the rules are lined up for us, we can get something out of those basic eight or nine, phase one practices, phase two practices and then phase three practices."
Rivera admitted he has been concerned during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that's why he wants to stress the importance of staying diligent and practicing the proper safety protocols.
"I think as we understand more and more about this virus, it seems that wearing a mask, washing your hands, socially distancing, trying to avoid large crowds, you know you give yourself a chance."