Alex Smith returns to practice, here’s what Washington will need to see for him to start in Week 17

Alex Smith has not taken the field since Week 14 when a calf strain forced him out of Washington Football Team’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Days before the team’s season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, however, the veteran quarterback has taken a big step toward returning to the lineup. According to NFL Network, Smith participated in both a walkthrough and practice on Thursday, taking first-team reps with Washington’s offense and putting him on track to potentially start against the Eagles in Week 17.

“The plan has been to ramp him up,” per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, “and hope he can practice fully Friday.”

Friday, then, will serve as more of a determinant for Smith’s game-day status, but the fact he partook in individual drills Thursday suggests the QB is, in fact, closing in on a return to action. His recovery would be welcome news for Washington, which has lost two straight — against the Seahawks and Panthers — and was forced to start Dwayne Haskins, who’s no longer on the team, in those defeats.

Smith has not posted gaudy numbers since becoming the team’s full-time starter after a rigorous offseason rehab from severe leg injuries, totaling just four touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games. But he’s been a clear upgrade over Haskins, leading Washington to a 4-1 record during his five starts, and would have a chance to seal an NFC East title for the team on Sunday.

Washington can clinch the division and a playoff berth with a victory but would be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss.