Curtis Samuel, healthy again, adds a spark to the Commanders offense

Curtis Samuel, by his own admission, usually goes into each game with at least one celebratory dance planned. To fete his first-quarter touchdown against the Jaguars in Week 1, he dug deep and pulled out a classic, the “chicken head” dance, bobbing his shoulders and swinging his arms with alternating toe taps.

“That’s a legendary dance,” Samuel explained Thursday with a smile. “I try to do some old stuff sometimes. I had to show y’all how I do it.”

In Week 2, Samuel’s celebration after a third-quarter touchdown against the Lions was muted, perhaps largely because the Commanders had been shut out, 22-0, up until that point — but also because he was body-slammed after crossing the goal line.

A touchdown dance loses its appeal when the guy doing the scoring has a busted lip.

But as the Commanders prepare to host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday for their first divisional matchup this season, Samuel is already contemplating the next dance, a flashy reminder of his renewed confidence and importance to Washington’s offense.

After signing a lucrative three-year contract in 2021, Samuel was sidelined for much of that season because of groin and hamstring injuries. His frustration in recovery was evident, especially as the noise around him intensified and some questioned his value.

But when Samuel returned in the spring for organized team activities and later for training camp, he quickly showed his worth and the many reasons Washington had signed him. Although the Commanders have oscillated from one extreme to another the past two weeks, with as many big plays as head-scratching mistakes, Samuel has emerged as a consistent weapon on offense and a spark plug for a team that at times needed the jolt.

Commanders’ Curtis Samuel is excited ‘to finally feel like myself again’

Through Week 2, he’s combined for 171 yards (38 rushing) to go with his two touchdown catches. Much of his work — and much of the challenge he presents for opposing defenses — has been after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Samuel has 87 yards (tied for seventh among qualified receivers) and has forced four missed tackles (tied for fourth) after the catch. He also boasts a 134.0 passer rating when targeted.

“We know what Curtis can do, and that’s what was so frustrating about not having him on the field last year,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “Now that he’s healthy, now that he’s playing to his ability, I think we all see what he’s capable of and just how important it is. Those are plays that we couldn’t use last year because we didn’t have a body type like that.”

For Samuel, the physical recovery was only the half of it; the mental phase was just as great of a challenge.

Throughout the offseason, Samuel rehabbed and trained at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami, often working alongside teammate and former college roommate Terry McLaurin. The Commanders limited Samuel’s on-field time in camp as part of a plan to slowly integrate him back into team work without aggravating the injuries. The goal was to keep him healthy for the long term, not just the immediate future.

Rivera said it was during the first preseason game that he noticed Samuel playing like himself again. He added: “Now we’re seeing what his potential is for us as we go forward and hoping we can stay healthy with him and all of our players. We’ve got a good, dynamic group.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who was a part of Rivera’s staff in 2017 in Carolina when the Panthers drafted Samuel, watched the receiver develop into a playmaker. In Washington, Turner has found ways to get creative with Samuel’s skill set.

Samuel’s versatility was obvious from the start this season. His first touch against the Jaguars was a five-yard run out of the backfield. On the subsequent play, he lined up out wide in a bunch formation and caught a short pass that he turned into a 13-yard gain. Five plays later, he was in the end zone. On the next series, he collected another 22 yards and juked at least a few defenders to help set up a touchdown by Jahan Dotson, and by game’s end, Washington had spread the ball to 10 receivers and five rushers.

“Curtis can do a lot of different things,” Turner said. “… He brings energy, too. Not just a schematic deal. He’s another guy that can go out and make a bunch of plays. Very excited to have him back. You can see he’s been getting the ball quite a bit, and some of that’s by design, and some of that’s just how it’s ended up, how the play has ended up in the progression.”

The Commanders’ offense isn’t all new. But sometimes, it looks that way.

Against the Lions, when Washington’s offense was essentially nonexistent for the first half, Samuel still accounted for 99 total yards (78 receiving), including 15 on a momentum-shifting touchdown in the third quarter. His presence, along with McLaurin, Dotson, receiver-turned-running back Antonio Gibson and tight end Logan Thomas, has opened up the playbook for Washington and given quarterback Carson Wentz more options.

Turner has used Samuel in motion often and has treated him as a hybrid receiver who can line up primarily in the slot but can also move outside and even to the backfield. He has speed and elusiveness, along with polished route-running, and lately he has exuded a swagger that has come out every now and again after a score.

“I’ve been feeling like myself, in camp and everything,” Samuel said. “[I’m] flying around, and my personality is just showing because I’m out there feeling good. … I’m just having a good time.”

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