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Washington prepares for depth to be tested yet again

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Adam Humphries makes a catch during the Washington Football Team's game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

The Washington Football Team is banged up heading into its Week 15 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. That's nothing new, but the new round of ailments presents new challenges late in the season.

Washington got key players like Landon Collins back against the Dallas Cowboys, but the safety's spot on the injury list was filled by multiple key offensive players. Terry McLaurin is in the concussion protocol after a nasty fall while attempting to make a catch in the 27-20 defeat. Tyler Larsen, who left the game early in Week 12 and did not play in Week 13, was carted off the field. Taylor Heinicke also left the game with a knee injury and will be monitored this week.

Washington's depth has been tested time and time again throughout the season. With playoffs hanging in the balance, it will be tested again. Still, head coach Ron Rivera remains confident in the players available down the stretch.

"I wouldn't say it's insurmountable, but it most certainly will test your depth more so than anything else," Rivera said. "The guys that have stepped up and played have done a pretty good job."

There's no way to quantify the possibility of McLaurin missing time at this point in the season other than to say it would be a heavy loss. The third-year wideout is one of Washington's most productive players, the team's leading target in the passing game and a captain. Washington needs to be as close to full strength as possible to make a playoff push, and being without McLaurin, who leads the league in contested catches since 2020, would erect another hurdle to overcome.

It's important to note that it's still early in the week, so McLaurin could be removed from the concussion protocol in time for Sunday. Rivera is comfortable with the options Washington has after McLaurin, though, which includes Adam Humphries, Dyami Brown, Cam Sims and Curtis Samuel.

Whether McLaurin is ready or not, Samuel, who missed the majority of the season with a groin injury and has 54 snaps since the bye week, is a player Rivera would like to see be more involved.

"The guy is a dynamic player, and believe me, when he gets rolling, gets the ball in his hands, he can be very explosive for us," Rivera said.

Other players like Humphries have shown up in big moments. Nineteen of the seven-year veteran's catches have resulted in first downs. Sims' acrobatic 43-yard catch also helped jumpstart Washington's offense as it readied itself for a comeback attempt.

"I'm pretty confident," Rivera said. "You know, we had some guys make some plays yesterday and again, 11 different guys were targeted. So that, to me is always a good thing. It's just as you go through it, you'd love to have Terry because of who he is for us in terms of our offense. But we do feel we have enough play makers to get out there and make some plays."

Washington is once again on its fourth center after Larsen went down in the fourth quarter. It is likely that Keith Ismael will receive much of the starting snaps during the week. Luckily for Washington, Ismael already has a small dose of experience, as he replaced Larsen against the Seattle Seahawks and started against the Las Vegas Raiders, and impressed Rivera in the limited action.

"He plays with his hands well. He moves his feet well. He can position very nicely," Rivera said after the win over the Seahawks. "He's a guy that plays with leverage, so he did a nice job. You saw him ID some of the protections. That's a big thing to ask of a young guy. For him to come through and do what he did, that was awesome."

In other injury news, Charles Leno briefly left the field on Sunday, but Rivera said that although "came out of it a little gimpy," he should be good to go.

Washington's other issues surround its recent string of positive COVID-19 cases. The list includes nine players, eight of them on defense, with Jonathan Allen, Casey Toohill, James Smith-Williams and Montez Sweat, who is also on Injured Reserve, among them. Washington has since signed Nate Orchard from the Green Bay Packers' practice squad and added Hercules Mata'afa to its own practice squad.

Washington has dealt with injuries since the season began, and despite losing players like Chase Young and Ryan Fitzpatrick, it has managed the losses as well as can be hoped for. Depending on how the week unfolds, more challenges could be coming.

Sunday's game will be another opportunity to see how the team handles it.

"Do I think we have some talented young players? Yeah, I do," Rivera said. "And I think they need to get experience. They need to understand what it takes."

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