It didn't take long for the hype to start percolating around the Washington Commanders during the 2021 offseason.
After finishing the 2020 campaign 7-9, which was enough to win the NFC East, there was an expectation that Washington was about to jump into the conversation with the top teams in the league. They retooled their offense with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Curtis Samuel, while their defense remained intact from an exceptional season.
But then Samuel experienced a groin injury during OTAs that he never really recovered from. Fitzpatrick suffered what was ultimately a season-ending hip subluxation in Week 1; starting center Chase Roullier followed with a fractured left fibula in Week 8; Chase Young tore his ACL in Week 10; and Logan Thomas tore his ACL as well in Week 13.
Although there was a glimmer of hope towards winning the division with five games left, the injuries ended up being too much to overcome, leaving Washington to settle with a 7-10 finish. Now, all the previously mentioned players are on some path towards recovery, and the trio of Julie Donaldson, Logan Paulsen and Santana Moss discussed what they want to see from their returns.
"I love to see the twitch," Moss said of Samuel. "I definitely want to see this man be as dynamic as he can be."
Samuel has been the most active among Washington's injured players from last season. He seems to be completely healed from his injury, and he's shown signs of his old quickness during OTAs.
"I'm great," Samuel told media members after practice. "Y'all saw me flying around out there."
Having a healthy Samuel would add another dimension to Washington's passing attack, especially with his versatility to line up anywhere on the field. But as someone who dealt with lower body injuries himself, Moss wants to see caution from Samuel.
"I love to see what I'm seeing from Curtis Samuel, but I don't wanna see so much of it," Moss said. "I want him to just…slowly get back into things."
The Washington Commanders worked through team and blitz drills during Wednesday's OTA. Check out the top shot from the practice. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Washington's other injured players are on slower trajectories. Roullier hasn't suited up yet, but Ron Rivera said he's healing up well. Young also has a longer path towards recovery, although he was on the field and in good spirits about his plan.
"Everything is going as planned," Young said. "I'm happy where I'm at, and I'm confident on everything I'm doing going forward."
Paulsen and Moss agreed that their expectation for Young is to get back to the form he showed in 2020, when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Paulsen pointed out that ACL tears aren't career-ending injuries like they were in the past, so it's an achievable goal for the former No. 2 overall pick.
"It's very reasonable that he comes back [with] a different mental approach…and is very productive this season," Paulsen said.
The other player who hasn't participated in action yet is Thomas, but he's been going through rehab on the side field. Thomas, who has been one of Washington's go-to weapons since he arrived in 2020, suffered his ACL tear late in the season, meaning that he will likely not be ready for the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When Thomas does arrive, it'll be another weapon for Carson Wentz to use. In the meantime, his absence will mean that the other tight ends on the roster will need to step up.
“John Bates came out and played really, really well late in the year, and you feel really comfortable about what he brings," Paulsen said. "But one of those young guys, Cole Turner, Sammis Reyes, Curtis Hodges, one of those guys has to step up and play a lot of minutes for this offense."
You can check out Paulsen and Moss' full breakdown in the video above.