Quarterback Alex Smith is running -- as in literally running -- into the next phase of his road to recovery and playing in the NFL again.
Smith’s injury against the Houston Texans last November is not one Redskins fans will soon forget. His broken fibula and tibia in his right leg resurrected memories of Joe Theismann, who suffered the same injury more than 30 years earlier, and since then Smith has fought through 17 surgeries and infections on the arduous climb towards making a comeback.
Now, one year after the most excruciating moment of his career, Smith is starting to enter the next phase of his recovery: working on football motions.
“I’ve really tried to transition into working on some football stuff,” Smith told Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael on the Redskins’ podcast, “The Alex Smith Report” on Friday. “Like into some quarterback stuff.”
Smith isn’t talking about throwing the football; he’s been doing that for some time now, and in October he was seen working with coaches on the team’s practice field while throwing passes.
Smith is talking about making dropbacks, moving around, throwing live routes to receivers and “getting some kind of real work in.”
“I’m working on my own, doing some of that stuff, so it’s kind of the next phase in this,” Smith said. “It was always lurking to kind of graduate out of everyday stuff and try to get into some athletic stuff and try to push that.”
The thing that Smith is most excited about is running.
“I’m out of the AlterG (a treadmill that is designed to “unweight” the user through the use of differential air pressure),” Smith said with a smile. “It just feels good to be able to run and drop and throw.”
Little has been revealed about Smith’s recovery since his injury, but his coaches and teammates have been astounded with his dedication and progress towards making a full recovery. He was limited to a wheelchair in the months after his surgery and had to wear an external fixator, which stabilized the broken bones in his lower leg.
Smith remained in the hospital for almost a month before he was released, and it was even longer before his first public appearance, which came during a Washington Wizards game in January.
The months after the injury were difficult for Smith and his family, he said, but they adjusted well to his recovery process.
“My family, we’re in a great place,” Smith said. “It was hard there for a few months when I was really incapacitated and couldn’t help, and in fact, I was almost another child for my wife to take care of. She had to drive me everywhere, take care of me in a lot of ways, almost like a nurse.”
Smith said in June that an NFL comeback was “the plan,” and he's been working every day to get back onto the field. Smith eventually didn’t require a wheelchair to get around, and after eight months he shed the external fixator for good. (He now wears a black compression sleeve on his right leg.) And as the Redskins were preparing for their Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 23, he walked onto FedExField without assistance and no noticeable limp.
When asked about Smith throwing footballs on the practice fields in October, interim head coach Bill Callahan said he has “never seen anything” like Smith’s recovery.
“I’ve never seen anything like the effort he’s pouring into his rehab," Callahan said. "It’s so impressive, and for him to be going out there in the stages he’s gone through, he’s got the ultimate respect from all of us.”
Smith still has a ways to go before suiting up and trying to win football games. He’s still working on getting his strength back, and he's constantly monitoring how his leg feels from a medical standpoint.
He’s optimistic there will come a time where he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.
“I’m hopeful for that,” Smith said. “I hope I never forget what this has been like to go through. I’m anxious to get back.”