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Redskins positional review: wide receivers

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

Projected starters: Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss

Key reserves: Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan, Anthony Armstrong, Aldrick Robinson, Terrence Austin, Brandon Banks.

Battle spot: Clearly the Redskins aren’t keeping eight receivers. But six? Sure thing. So the first battle is for a roster spot and I don’t think any of the last four listed above are locks to make the team. But I put them in order of where I think they stand right now. Also, there will be competition to start opposite Garcon among Moss, Hankerson and Morgan. But both Morgan and Hankerson are still on the mend giving Moss an edge. Morgan did practice in the spring, but lacked explosiveness. Among interesting players in camp: Brian Hernandez, in his first NFL camp since leaving the University of Utah after the 2007 season, and Lance Lewis, who made many leaping catches at East Carolina University. Both are longshots, especially Hernandez, but Lewis is a good project (though he didn’t exactly stand out in the spring and doesn’t have great speed). Hernandez will be a good camp story because it’s doubtful anyone will be happier to be there.

Vet in trouble: Banks and Austin. If Robinson shows that he can help in the return game and from scrimmage because of his speed, then both these players are likely gone. I like Austin’s footwork, especially in the slot and as a punt returner. But he’s not a burner and others can potentially do what he does. Armstrong is helped by the fact that he, too, is a good special teamer and an excellent blocker. But he’s coming off a sub-par year (for a few reasons) and needs to re-prove himself.

What I like: A rejuvenated Moss. He looked a little more spry in the spring, having lost 15 pounds. I’m not saying he’ll suddenly be making big plays downfield anymore, but he should show more burst than last season and get more YAC – with the number of short routes and smoke routes they send him on, leading to good yards after the catch, he should do much better than last year’s 4.1 YAC (he had 4.8 in 2010)…Garcon’s size. He’s a sturdy guy and will be able to break some tackles for yards after the catch. He averaged 5.1 YAC last season. Morgan has been more consistent after the catch, averaging 6.4 yards combined the past two seasons (59 receptions)…Hankerson’s potential – both he and Garcon play taller than they are. I love how much Hankerson extends his (long) arms to catch certain passes; makes it tough for defenders to come over the top and bat away passes…Armstrong’s speed and having a QB who can get him the ball downfield… Robinson’s speed. Didn’t see it last summer, but started to see signs this spring. But keep in mind that spring success does not always segue into a good training camp. … The blocking. Yes, the blocking. Garcon and Morgan are considered good blockers and no stretch zone will ever work if these guys can’t block….The versatility: Moss, Hankerson and Morgan can play the Z and the slot.

Remaining questions: How healthy is Hankerson? And how much can he help this year? Remember, he had no offseason last year, got little play time, got hurt and then had offseason surgery to rob him of a good offseason. He’ll know the playbook, but applying it takes longer and he’ll need to develop a rhythm with Robert Griffin III….Morgan’s health. He said in the spring that he was only three months into a six-month rehab. He could still practice, but he needs to regain that extra burst.  … Will Armstrong regain his productivity of two years ago? It wasn’t just getting away from press coverage last season, it also was his hands. He dropped a couple passes (and did so again in the spring). He needs to be more consistent. …Can Brandon Banks help at receiver? You already know that Mike Shanahan has said he must show he can to make the team. Banks has the ability to run away from defenders, especially on underneath routes as defenders play him to go deep. But consistently? His size and durability then come into question… Will Robinson show as well in the summer as he did in the spring? Again, seen a lot of guys who look good without pads only to fall back once camp opens….What does Moss have left? He looked fresher in the spring, but he’s also 33 years old….How are Garcon’s hands? I know he dropped fewer passes last year, but I also know scouts who spoke with Colts coaches and that was the No. 1 thing his ex-coaches discussed.

Better or worse: Better, if only because they have more potential after the catch. This is not a great group and there are a few questions that need to be answered. Garcon now moves into a role he hasn’t played in the past and will get more attention. But the beauty of this offense is that the scheme does get players open and as long as they move Garcon around, he’ll be fine in the role of a No. 1. Is he an elite receiver? No. But he is an improvement and there are other weapons in the passing game to compensate. In other words, they won’t rely on him…If Hankerson and Morgan are healthy they’ll have much more depth. A year ago Armstrong entered as a potential No. 2 or at worst a No. 3 target. This year? He’ll enter as the fifth receiver.

The final word: They need to provide more big plays. Anyone remember a receiver taking a short pass and turning it into a real long gainer last season? Me neither. Anyone remember a wideout breaking free of a DB’s grasp after a downfield catch? Me neither. Garcon provided good YAC last year, but not in 2010 (3.8). And in his last 137 receptions he has a combined 16 plays of 20 yards or more. That’s not a lot. Much of that depends on routes you’re asked to run, etc., but part of that is on the player. Morgan could turn out to provide more big plays; he, too, had 16 catches of 20-plus yards the past two years combined – but in only 59 receptions. That’s the best among this group as Moss had 19 in 139 combined grabs. This just means it’s not a given this group will be explosive. Griffin’s arm will help as will the scheme, which I’ve always liked, but the receivers must do their part too.

 

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