It was just one play, a single snap in a Washington Redskins camp full of them, but for Santana Moss it was oh so symbolic. On a throw to the left flat Thursday morning, just a few minutes into the first workout, Robert Griffin III led Moss a bit too far, and Santana was forced to make a tumbling catch, an effort that sent his visor flying.
At the sight of these highlight-reel histrionics — by a 33-year-old receiver, no less — the rookie quarterback bent over in laughter. Even Santana couldn’t help grinning as he jogged back to the huddle, gathering up his visor along the way. The message was clear: It might be a walk-through practice, but there’s nothing No. 89 won’t do to make himself a factor at the wideout spot this season. Even get scuffed up while hauling in a pass that won’t count in the final statistics.
“I don’t take no days for granted,” Moss said afterward. “I appreciate every day and every time I get a chance to come out here and do what I love to do. I love competing against the young guys and seeing if I can make them step their game up a bit. Football keeps you young. That’s probably one of the reasons Brett Favre and all those guys never wanted to stop.”
Speaking of stats, Moss has grabbed 639 passes in the NFL — and needs a dozen more to reach 500 as a Redskin. Only Art Monk (888), Charley Taylor (649) and Gary Clark (549) are ahead of him on the club’s all-time list. Indeed, Santana’s numbers as a pro receiver (9,142 yards, 14.3 average, 56 touchdowns) look an awful lot like Taylor’s (649 catches, 9,110 yards, 14.0 average, 79 TDs).
Does this mean he’s a Hall of Famer (like Charley was)? Um, no. But it does mean he’s had a really nice career — in an era in which footballs have filled the skies.
But I digress. What’s important with Moss, you see, isn’t how many passes he’s caught, it’s how many he will catch from here on out. He has two years left on the deal he signed last summer, but there are no guarantees in the Not For Long League — especially when you’re Santana’s age — that he’ll make it to the end of that deal. At this stage, he’s only as good as his last game.
Moss also saw the team part ways with thirtysomethings Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth in the offseason and sign younger free agents, Pierre Garcon (26) and Josh Morgan (27), to replace them. With second-year man Leonard Hankerson (23) expected to be in the mix, too, Santana must be feeling older than Joey Galloway (39) was a couple of seasons ago.
“I know my role,” he said. “Right now, I’m a slot guy; it’s something I’ve played the last few years here, but I’ll probably be playing it more. You never know, it might be a little bone for me. I’ve fought hard on the outside for so many years by myself [without another wideout to draw the attention of the defense]. Now to have two talents like we have on the outside, and me being on the inside, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Don’t bet against him. While a 33-year-old running back might be leaking oil and ready for the junkyard, a 33-year-old wideout is still of making Serious Noise — if he takes care of his body and can avoid serious injury. Jerry Rice, I’ll just point out, had 688 receptions (and was voted to four Pro Bowls) after his 33rd birthday. That’s more than Santana has now.
The Redskins don’t need Moss to be Jerry Rice, though. They just need him to be himself: a productive receiver and get-along guy who, as his playing days wind down, can help mentor the kids. And he seems to be embracing all facets of that role — the productive part and the Yoda part. In fact, he’s dropped 15 pounds and is in the 190 range, which he’s hoping will enable him to get back to, well, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. After all, he’s coming off his worst season (46 catches, 584 yards, four TDs) since he was a part-time wideout with the New York Jets, thanks in large measure to a broken hand that sidelined him a month.
“The last few years, I’ve really found out what kind of athlete I am,” he said, “because those [extra] pounds were like carrying two other guys [around]. But taking off the weight was just something I needed to do.”
How exactly did he put it on in the first place?
“As you get older, and you go through things, and one season I had a knee injury and kinda did nothing the whole offseason but rehab, and that’s one of the years I packed on [the pounds]. And I toned it up instead of losing it, and I was able to go out there and be productive, but I don’t see how. But now I’m feeling so much lighter and so much better, I’m real excited to see what I can do at this new weight.”