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ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Curtis Samuel may or may not be game ready. He certainly has his poker face on.
Washington's big-money addition at wide receiver took part in his first practice since offseason workouts Monday after dealing with a nagging groin injury and missing time on the NFL's COVID-19 list.
Asked if he expects to play in the season opener Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, Samuel was not eager to tip his hand.
“Maybe,” he said. “Who knows? We're going to see."
Samuel's status is the biggest question facing Washington going into the season. The reigning NFC East champions signed him to a $34.5 million, three-year contract to bring a dynamic dimension to an offense that struggled last year, and there's an eagerness to see what Samuel can do with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Coach Ron Rivera does not think Samuel, who is plenty familiar with offensive coordinator Scott Turner's system from their time together in Carolina, needs to be a full participant in practice to play against the Chargers. But the Samuel's role could be limited after missing so much time.
“It won’t be difficult to get snaps in the game: We got to make sure they’re good snaps," Rivera said. "When we rotate him in, we can’t rotate him six, seven plays in a row and expect that fifth, sixth, seventh play to be top end. But when you do put him in, you expect it to be top-end stuff. Realistically, you may see him two or three plays in a row and then come out and rotate through.”
Samuel said he's “feeling good” and insists he'll be honest about his health to prevent a setback. The 30-year-old has already struggled with the strain of sitting out all of training camp because of the injury.
“It’s just been lingering,” he said. “Just trying to push it and then not feeling good, so just waiting, waiting, waiting, which is frustrating. It’s hard. I haven’t really dealt with anything like this in a while, so it’s definitely frustrating and hard.”
Washington's Labor Day practice represented real progress. In the portions reporters were able to witness, Samuel caught passes from the QBs and did other individual drills, and the rest of practice gave the coaching staff a chance to see what he might be able to do with game action.
“We got to see him take a limited number of plays, but they’re plays obviously that 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. We got to see all that.”
Samuel had 77 catches for 851 yards and three touchdowns last season with the Panthers. He had five catches for 106 yards against Washington late in the season.
Rivera was coaching the Panthers when they drafted Samuel in the second round in 2017. The Brooklyn native has 2,087 yards receiving and 14 touchdown catches in four NFL seasons.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press