Former Utah QB Alex Smith not cleared by Washington Football
It's hard to imagine anybody in the NFL having a tougher journey over the previous 21 months than Alex Smith — and nobody knows setbacks quite like him.
It was on Nov. 18, 2018, in a game against the Houston Texans when Washington's quarterback had his life forever altered. As Smith dropped back for a pass, JJ Watt, Houston's star defensive player, sacked him from behind and fell on Smith in an incredibly awkward manner, fracturing his tibia and fibula in his right leg.
But five days ago, Smith received great news from his personal doctors when they medically cleared him to play football again.
“Everyone was in agreement that my bone was in a really good place,” Smith told ESPN. “I had healed a lot. They said that given the combination of the rod and where I was with the healing process, I had zero limitations and could even resume some football activities.”
Following the excitement of being cleared to resume activities, and upon arriving in Washington for his physical with his team doctors, Smith encountered another setback. The NFL Network's Tom Pelissero broke the news that Washington added Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, to its 'Physically Unable to Perform' list — which means that Smith is not cleared to resume football activities.
While on the PUP list, Smith can do nearly everything except any team work. That means that he can still work with the team trainers and doctors during his rehab and go through strength and conditioning workouts with the team or do individuals ones.
All things considered, it's a smart move to put Smith on the PUP list right away because once training camp gets underway, the team wouldn't have been able to place him on that list. The extra time allows Washington to evaluate him more and make sure he's fully ready to go and not be rushed back.
Smith has spent the last few months in Hawaii training, consistently posting workout videos regarding the progress of his leg and how he was becoming more and more mobile. He never lost faith that he would be playing the game he loved, but admitted in a report by ESPN that while he was progressing in terms of strength, conditioning and agility, he had no idea how the bones were healing.
His road to recovery and near-death story — albeit it with the hope of returning to professional football — is being chronicled by ESPN and titled "Project 11," a nod to Smith's jersey number with the Redskins.
“I think I’m so used to my body responding how I want it to respond. I had high expectations for this process and that I could knock it out of the park, and I think I’ve had to slow that a little bit,” Smith said during a promotional teaser for the documentary.
Smith is potentially the greatest quarterback to play for the Utes, leading the team to a 2004 Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 19 Pittsburgh while being a Heisman trophy finalist as well. That Utah squad was known as the original "BCS Buster," finishing the season 12-0 and No. 4 in the AP rankings.
He then parlayed that success into a solid NFL career, playing with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs before being traded to the Redskins in 2018 — which was followed by that fateful day in November when he was sacked by Houston’s J.J. Watt.
“No NFL player has ever been through what Alex Smith has,” Andy Tennant, E60 executive producer, said in a news release. “He’s normally a very private person but he wanted to document his road to recovery as well and as detailed as possible, with the hope that future players could use it as a road map. The access that he and his family granted to E60 is incredible and viewers will see a story of strength, dedication and perseverance.”
Among those participating in the E60 special are Urban Meyer, Smith's former coach at Utah, and Andy Reid, Smith's coach in Kansas City who won a Super Bowl last season.
The story will also dive deep into Smith's mindset throughout the process, and how he forever stayed positive — something reflected on by his wife Elizabeth when she saw Alex throw the ball again.
“To watch him light up, to watch him get that inner drive again,” she told Bell, saying it was something she hadn’t seen since the injury. “He kept his gratitude, he kept good perspective but not so much that drive. But I saw it again.”
Regardless of whether or not Smith returns to the field, his story is one of success and perseverance and will serve as a reminder for how powerful the human spirit lies within all of us.
It's been a long journey for Smith, who underwent 17 surgeries on his leg and nearly had it amputated at one point due to the infections. But now he's one step away from playing football again professionally, a concept that seemed impossible 21 months ago.
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