Leonard Hankerson shuffled through the hallway outside the locker room at Redskins Park on Thursday morning with a backpack slung over his left shoulder. His presence was required in a meeting upstairs in six minutes, barely enough time to chat.
The meeting was another element of preparation for the Washington Redskins' game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a huge NFC East matchup, one in which Hankerson knows there's a strong chance he won't play. The rookie receiver wasn't activated for any of the Redskins' first four games, and nothing appears to have merited a change to the depth chart.
This wasn't what Hankerson envisioned when the Redskins drafted him in the third round in April. For now, "Hank Time" involves running the scout team offense on Thursday instead of making plays on Sunday. But he is maintaining a positive attitude and determined to capitalize on his chance to play, whenever that arises.
"Any competitor, anybody that wants to play and knows he can help the team out, it's going to be tough for them," Hankerson said. "I can't control it. The only thing I can control is going out to practice and doing what I got to do, keep working hard and getting better."
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan touted the decision to draft Hankerson 79th overall as an easy one. His 13 touchdowns for the University of Miami last season were a school record. The Redskins, meanwhile, needed a receiver to spark their middling offense.
Hankerson, however, dropped passes too frequently in training camp and in preseason games. That landed him at the bottom of a seven-receiver depth chart.
"Any player is going to come in and be anxious wanting to make a play to get playing time," he said. "But now I look back on it, and I didn't really have to do that. I could have just been doing what I'm doing now, just coming in here, catching the ball, looking it all the way in and getting better."
Now he's stuck waiting for his chance. He knows it likely will take injuries to other players, but it's difficult to be patient.
Hankerson has turned to coaching assistant Richmond Flowers for support. Flowers, a former receiver who spent a short time on the Redskins' active roster in 2002, understands Hankerson's mental struggle. He fought to be noticed in several teams' training camps and on various practice squads during his brief NFL career.
"Hank's got a challenge," Flowers said. "I want to let him know that the most important thing is to not let any of it weigh you down and just come out and fight every day. Don't worry about anything else besides coming to practice, working on your technique and catching every ball you can."
Hankerson's attitude is paramount, Flowers said. Either he could pout about being left out of the rotation, or he could productively use this time to prepare himself for an eventual opportunity to play.
"At times you start to feel like you're not a part of it, and I can see that with him, but I tell him just to keep working," said Terrence Austin, a former seventh-round receiver who experienced a similar struggle as a rookie last year. "The coach sees everything that he's doing, and really it's about being patient. His time will come. It's not like he can't play. He can definitely play."
Hankerson must prove that by being consistent. That was his downfall in the preseason. On some plays, he would appear every bit the playmaker the Redskins believe the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder can be. Then he'd drop a pass over the middle because he turned to run before securing the ball.
"I think that's what Hank is working to do - being consistent in practice, the meeting room, the way he approaches his studies, his workouts, consistently catching balls after practice," Flower said. "Good players ... consistently do the same things every day."
Outside the locker room, Hankerson concluded his chat with a reporter and bolted up the steps, another chance to hurry up and wait.
"I just keep doing what I'm doing in practice, just keep getting better," he said, "and my time will come."
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