Before the Redskins report to Richmond for training camp on July 24, I’m examining their strengths and questions at each position. Next up: wide receivers.
Returning starters: Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan
Impact reserves: Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson
Others: Donte Stallworth, Devery Henderson, Dezmon Briscoe, Lance Lewis, Skye Dawson, Chip Reeves and Nick Williams
Notable departure: Brandon Banks (not tendered)
New faces: Stallworth (free agent, New England), Henderson (free agent, New Orleans), Lance Lewis (free agent, out of NFL), Dawson (undrafted free agent, TCU), Reeves (undrafted free agent, Troy) and Williams (undrafted free agent, Connecticut).
Final cuts history: Mike Shanahan kept seven in 2012, when he considered Banks a receiver. He kept seven in 2011, excluding Banks, whom he considered a specialist. He kept six in 2010.
What to like: Assuming quarterback Robert Griffin III is cleared, as expected, to return from right knee surgery, training camp will be the first time this offseason he works with his receivers within the structure of the offense. They finally will resume their collective development of such passing game elements as timing and sight adjustments to routes.
In terms of personnel, there’s a lot to like about this receiving corps. The overall depth stands out. Washington was the only NFL team last season that had four wide receivers with at least 500 receiving yards. Garcon’s six-game absence due to a right foot injury helped divide the production, but it bodes well that a reserve such as Leonard Hankerson made such a positive impact when called upon.
It’s difficult to find a more physical pair of starting receivers in the NFL than Garcon and Morgan. That shows in how positively the entire position group impacts the running game. Aggressive, sound and enthusiastic blocking by Garcon, Morgan and Hankerson, in particular, was a big reason why Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie.
And speaking of Garcon and Morgan, their improved health leg/foot health should enable them to be more explosive and play faster. Garcon eschewed offseason surgery on his right foot, but he averaged almost 80 receiving yards over the last five games last season, so it’s fair to expect at least that level of productivity. Morgan had a plate and screws removed from the right ankle he broke in 2011. That improved his ability to run fluidly during spring practices, he said.
This group also possesses exceptional vertical speed at both the X and Z positions. Garcon, Hankerson, Robinson and Moss got behind the defense last year for big gains (play-action passes certainly don’t hurt), and Stallworth and Henderson will have a chance in preseason to prove they still have it.
Preseason questions: Garcon’s health always will require monitoring because he has played all 16 games only once in his five NFL seasons. He did not have surgery to repair the torn plantar plate in his right foot, but he did have surgery to repair a torn labrum in one of his shoulders. He expects to be as close to 100 percent healthy as possible, but he acknowledged his foot could be problematic in an unexpected scenario.
Moss, now 34, rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 to make a significant impact last season as a slot receiver. His eight touchdowns were second on the team. Moss got his legs back under him after they appeared to go in 2011. His cuts were sharper and he once again was a threat after the catch. It’s important for Moss report to camp in similarly good physical condition this summer because the Redskins don’t have much established depth in the slot behind him. Last preseason, Banks and Terrence Austin played in the slot, but neither remains with the team. So who will emerge as the backup to Moss up in that role? No one in particular stands out.
Henderson has some experience playing inside in some of New Orleans’ multiple-receiver sets, but he mostly lined up wide. Because the Redskins signed him at the end of spring practices, we have not witnessed whether he still is a significant deep threat. At age 31, there’s a reason the Saints didn’t bring him back. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett loved Henderson’s speed when, as Saints head coach, he drafted Henderson in 2004, but Henderson must prove he can still run.
Hankerson and Robinson would secure their roster spots by improving some problem areas. Hankerson battles inconsistency catching the ball, and that continued with at least one drop during spring practices that were open to media. He emphasizes concentrating on securing the ball before making a move. Robinson’s run blocking cost him playing time early last year. It’s not easy for him to match the blocking standard set by first-string X receiver Garcon, given his two-inch, 30-pound size disadvantage. That’s why Mike Shanahan loves competition—it forces players to get better.