Now, Samuel says he feels like himself again — finally.
“I’ve been training and working out, and I haven’t been limited to anything,” he said. “I’ve been doing pretty much everything that I used to be able to do — running fast, cutting fast. I’m just feeling good overall, and I’m excited about it. This upcoming season, I got a lot of goals.”
For weeks before the start of Washington’s offseason workout program, Samuel trained alongside fellow Commanders wideout Terry McLaurin at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami. His initial focus was his overall strength and conditioning, to get his body used to withstanding four quarters of football and a 17-game season.
“One thing I kind of learned throughout the years about my body is when you start getting fatigued, you’re more prone to injuries,” he said. “After running for a while, I’ll go in the weight room and try to strengthen my hamstrings to get it to the point where, if it’s the fourth quarter or an overtime game, my hamstrings, my groin, everything is still moving good and I’m feeling faster.”
That may sound simple, but for Samuel, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to change direction, maintaining those attributes all season requires a nuanced approach.
“This year it was just kind of getting back to how he felt in 2020,” said Pete Bommarito, the owner of Bommarito Performance Systems and a trainer for dozens of NFL players. “It was just a matter of him running efficiently. This isn’t something you can think about. When you’re running at 22, 23 miles an hour in a live football game, you can’t be thinking about your running stride and efficiency — it’s got to happen automatically. That’s trainable.”
To help Samuel regain his form of two years ago, when he had 1,051 scrimmage yards with the Carolina Panthers, much of his training this spring has been on his stride, to help him reach top speed faster and spare his muscles and joints from unnecessary stress.
Bommarito had him run through plyometric and resistance drills, then alternate them with sprints and routes. Five minutes of technical work, then five minutes of full-speed routes or sprints. Back and forth, back and forth.
The drills were tailored to make a small tweak to his movement, something unnoticeable when he’s at full speed.
“Control the stride to make sure they maintain their speed,” Bommarito said. “…That’s what we really did. It was just focusing on that. When he overstrides and he can’t control it, he does feel those nagging issues. But that’s not unique to him; that’s the case for almost everybody that’s blazing fast like him in any sport.”
A glimpse of Samuel’s progress came in a video on social media in which he ran a sprint while connected to a resistance trainer called a Ki-RO vest. Samuel’s burst and speed were on display, and there was no sign of discomfort or hindrance.
“Those types of plyometrics and resisted drills is what he really responds to,” Bommarito said. “That’s why he looks so fast in that video, because that was after a series of back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. …I said: ‘You see the difference here. We’re 60 minutes into a training session, and you’re maximizing your stride now.’ Even though the legs are fatigued, the patterns set in.”
Toward the end of their workouts, Bommarito noticed Samuel was finding his groove and “running how he wants to” — as he did in 2020 and as he hoped to in 2021, when Washington signed him to be a complement to McLaurin.
The former roommates at Ohio State had long dreamed of playing together in the NFL. Last year was far from what they envisioned; Samuel’s injury limited him to six catches in five games. Year 2 may have a chance of unfolding as they had hoped, but Washington’s receiving corps will look a bit different.
The Commanders prioritized adding playmakers in the offseason to give new quarterback Carson Wentz additional weapons. Last week, they drafted Jahan Dotson out of Penn State in the first round, giving them another speedy and polished route-runner to work with McLaurin and Samuel.
“My main thing is to be available for my teammates — whatever I have to do to take care of my body and to make sure I’m out there,” Samuel said. “It’s kind of exciting to finally feel like myself again.”