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WFT Daily: Despite Not Practicing, Washington Optimistic Smith Can Play

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Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) warms up prior to an NFL football game against San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.

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There are some players who don't need to participate as much as others in practice leading up to a game, and head coach Ron Rivera sees quarterback Alex Smith as one of those guys.

Smith, who has missed the past two games with a calf injury, did not participate in Wednesday's practice. He is largely viewed as the Washington Football Team's best option at quarterback, and if it wants to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on NBC's Sunday Night Football and win the NFC East, having Smith under center will certainly help.

But Smith resting his calf is more important to the team than practice time at this point, and seeing his name pop up on the injury report is not necessarily a reliable indicator of his status for the Week 17 matchup.

"Specific guys, like him, are the kind of guys that they can watch, they can absorb and they can get it and they can go out and play well," Rivera said. "So I'm not worried about that."

Rivera has been adamant about Smith's preparedness, despite getting little to no practice time, since Smith was first listed on the injury report ahead of the Seahawks game. Smith has been in the NFL for 16 years, so he knows that Smith understands how to get himself ready from a mental standpoint.

"A smart football player like that -- you usually don't worry about those guys," Rivera said prior to Washington playing the Seattle Seahawks. "Those guys will be ready to pick it up and be ready to go."

Smith did not stretch with the team during Wednesday's practice, but he was in uniform and went through his own warmup routine with trainers off to the side and threw with fellow quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Steven Montez. Heinicke took all the starting team reps in his place and will start if Smith cannot play.

What Smith did or did not do is not an exact representation of his progress. He was close to playing last week -- Smith himself said he was "right on the doorstep" of starting -- but his injury takes time to heal; the more time he spends off of it, the better he will be, Rivera said, and the team is pleased with the way his recovery is unfolding.

"I do feel like, hopefully, I'll continue to progress. Hopefully, beyond that, it'll be better than that. At the same time, I'll use the progression of this week and see how it goes. Certainly, my focus is on Sunday and doing everything I can to get ready for that."

As for Wednesday, Smith said he felt good and his workload went as planned. He's determined to do whatever possible to play Sunday, but in the meantime, he's focused on milking everything he can out of his mental reps.

This time also gives Heinicke a chance to be ready if Smith is ruled out for Sunday. Heinicke has experience running offensive coordinator Scott Turner's system, but he still only has two years experience of live action. He will need all the reps he can get if he plays, although Smith was impressed with how Heinicke handled himself in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers.

"To have limited reps since he's been there and to go out and play the way he did, I thought was really impressive. Certainly, you could see a lot of that play-making ability out there. I was happy for him. He's been a great addition to the room."

Rivera said Washington has missed Smith's consistency over the past two weeks, and that will be critical with the division on the line against the Eagles. Washington has been in high-magnitude games this season against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving and the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers the following week, and his clarity, as well as his emphasis on more specific details, has helped lead the team to wins.

Smith can't provide them that if he is not in the game, which is why Washington is willing to sacrifice some of his practice time if it means he can rest his calf. As long as he is mentally prepared, which Rivera is confident that he will be, the team is confident he'll be ready to play.

"The last couple weeks have been frustrating dealing with something like this," Smith said. "But, yeah, just working through it and continuing to try to get better. Obviously, this week, we're leaving it all on the line and all the focus with Sunday in mind and trying to make the most out of every second."

The Washington Football team held practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Dec. 30, 2020. (Photos courtesy of Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team and Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

QUICK HITS

-- "We've got a lot of guys that get it": Even in a season where nothing has been normal, this week has a unique feel to it with Washinton in position to win the NFC East on NBC's Sunday Night Football. The pressure will on Washington to produce, but Rivera does not seem worried about that. It has been in these situations before against the Cowboys and Steelers, and each time it came away with wins. Rivera is not concerned about the team's focus for such a high-magnitude game, either, because "we've got a lot of guys that get it."

"When you listen to them and you watch them, you feel like they understand. They share the message with each other. That's the biggest thing is that they take care of themselves. They take ownership of this football team and really try to make sure that they're all focusing on what's important and not interesting."

-- Week 1 feels like five years ago to Scott Turner: It has been more than three months since Washington began the season against the Eagles, but Turner said it has felt like five years. That is partly because the offense has come a long way since then. Some players who had questions entering the season have stepped up and been solid pieces to the system. Players like Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas have stepped up. Others, like Terry McLaurin, have further cemented themselves as some of the better players in the NFL. There is still a long way to go toward building the unit the way the coaches envision, but Turner still feels like it has gotten a lot better.

"We've gotten better in a lot of areas. That's kind of what we tried to do. It is interesting, we played them in the first game, and we'll play them in the last game. We're really, right now, focused on getting in this last game and doing everything we can to find a way to get a win and extend our season."

-- The key to Alex Smith's leadership is authenticity: Ask anyone from Rivera to Chase Young, and they will heap praise on Smith's influence and his ability to lead. With a roster full of young players, Smith has provided the veteran voice and presence and the team learns how to win. Smith does not pay attention to how his actions are perceived; he simply tries to go about his business the best way he can. He has picked up several things throughout his career, though, and when it comes to being in the huddle and interacting with his teammates, the key has been to remain authentic.

"For me, it's all about being able to go out there and help us win football games. I'm not thinking about anything else beyond that. Certainly, I think when you are older and have been in some of these situations, there's a comfort level that maybe you do have that you don't realize."

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