Training camp questions countdown: Wide receivers coming off injuries

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This week I’m counting down the five most important personnel questions facing the Redskins in training camp and the preseason.

Monday – No. 5: Who will win the starting free safety position?

Tuesday – No. 4: What will the offensive line look like, considering two first-stringers are working back to full health?

Wednesday – No. 3: What will become of tight end Chris Cooley?

Thursday – No. 2: How effective will Tim Hightower be coming off a torn ACL in his left knee?

No. 1: How will receivers’ injuries affect the unit’s ability to meet increased expectations?

The Redskins prioritized acquiring playmakers in the passing game during an offseason in which their salary cap space was unexpectedly reduced by $18 million on the eve of free agency. When Washington’s decision-makers were forced to trim their shopping list, receivers remained at the top because they acknowledged the need for playmakers who scare defenses and command special attention from opposing coordinators.

The Redskins signed free-agent receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to join second-year wideout Leonard Hankerson and veteran Santana Moss. The team also released last year’s leading receiver, Jabar Gaffney.

Mike and Kyle Shanahan believe Garcon, Morgan and Hankerson will join quarterback Robert Griffin III to transform their offense into an explosive juggernaut capable of winning championships. There’s a potential major problem this season, though.

Neither Morgan nor Hankerson fully participated in the offseason program because of lower body injuries that required surgery last year. The injuries affect both receivers’ running, which could be a significant detriment to their effectiveness.

Both expect to fully participate in training camp practices beginning on Thursday, but we really don’t know how smoothly they will work back during the grind of camp.

The nature of Hankerson’s injury makes it the most concerning. He tore the labrum in his right hip when it popped out and back into the joint late in a November loss to the Miami Dolphins. He tried to avoid surgery but had it in February. As we’ve learned from right tackle Jammal Brown, who had a similar hip surgery in 2009, it can have lingering negative effects involving mobility, flexibility and speed.

Perhaps Brown, though, is not a fair comparison because of their different body types and the different positions they play. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall had hip labrum surgery in 2009 and made the Pro Bowl in two of the three seasons since. Without knowing the details of how Marshall’s injury compared to Hankerson’s, that’s an auspicious sign for Hankerson’s recovery.

Morgan ran gingerly during OTAs and minicamp. He broke his right leg and tore ligaments last October during garbage time of a San Francisco 49ers blowout win. Surgery to repair the damage included eight screws and a plate.

Then consider how displeased Redskins coaches were last season with Moss’ speed and conditioning after he returned from a broken hand injury. Moss, 33, was in better shape and moved better during offseason practices, but that was without much hitting.

During training camp, let’s closely monitor how well Hankerson, Morgan and Moss can run. The offensive improvement Washington expects in 2012 depends on it.

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