- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Washington Redskins thought they had found a future starting wide receiver in March when they lured Andre Roberts away from the Arizona Cardinals.

They couldn’t have imagined then that just two weeks later, former Philadelphia Eagles standout DeSean Jackson would fall into their hands as well.

In Roberts and Jackson, the Redskins have significantly upgraded their receiving corps, adding players whose talents are unlike anything they had during quarterback Robert Griffin III’s first two seasons.

Now, the hope is that under first-year coach Jay Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay, the Redskins will be able to utilize their new acquisitions’ abilities — and those of wide receiver Pierre Garon — to help them take a significant step forward in the passing game.

“I feel like we’ve got a whole bunch of targets on offense that Rob can throw to, and I feel like the defense is not going to be able to double-team or anything like that with so many weapons,” said tight end Jordan Reed.

The Redskins‘ passing attack was pedestrian last season, as the team ranked 16th — just inside the top half of the league — with 234.4 passing yards per game.


SEE ALSO: SNYDER: Robert Griffin III, Jay Gruden perfect together — for now


Griffin, returning from offseason surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee, was asked to throw the ball an average of 35 times a game — a significant increase over the 26 attempts he made per game during his rookie season.

At times, that worked. He threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears on Oct. 20, and he threw for 291 yards in a 30-24 overtime victory over the San Diego Chargers two weeks later.

Often, though, it didn’t. Griffin threw for more than 300 yards in each of the first three games of the season, all of which the Redskins lost handily. He completed a season-high 75 percent of his passes on Dec. 1 against the New York Giants, a nationally televised loss at home, and though he had three touchdown passes on the road against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 7, the Redskins choked away a 13-point third-quarter lead in a 34-27 loss.

His problem, frequently, was his targets. Garon, who broke Art Monk’s single-season record with 113 receptions in 2013, was Griffin’s only reliable receiver. Joshua Morgan, now with the Chicago Bears, opened the season as the starter opposite Garon but clashed with the coaching staff and saw his playing time dwindle.

Leonard Hankerson should have made the jump last season, his third in the league, but tore the ACL in his left knee on Nov. 17 and isn’t expected to be ready to practice when training camp opens. Aldrick Robinson, also in his third season, was given an opportunity when Hankerson went down but struggled to catch the ball with consistency.

Reed, who finished second on the team with 45 catches for 499 yards, emerged as a playmaker during his rookie season but was often hampered by injury. He missed the final six games of the season because of the lingering effects of a concussion.

That’s why the Redskins brought back 35-year-old Santana Moss, who, despite serving as the full-time slot receiver and playing only 48 percent of all offensive snaps, was still second among wide receivers with 42 catches and 452 yards.

It’s also why an influx of talent was needed.

“We’re just going to keep implementing our system, and we have to move people around and make sure everybody can play more than one spot because you never know who’s going to get injured or not be available from a game-to-game basis,” Gruden said last month during the Redskins‘ offseason workouts. “It’s important for people to be in multiple positions, and the guys mentally who can handle it will have the edge up. Obviously, you want to look into the physical skill set of each player, but right now, it’s a great competition.”

Roberts, who signed a four-year, $16 million contract, had his role diminished last year when new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians tabbed second-year wide receiver Michael Floyd as the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald. At 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, Roberts can play both outside and in the slot, though his greatest contributions will likely come when the Redskins deploy three-receiver sets.

Jackson, brought in on what’s essentially a three-year, $24 million contract — the fourth year written into the deal can be voided — will understandably be the featured attraction. He played in all 16 games last season for the first time in his six-year career and set or matched career highs with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.

His straight-line speed will be his greatest asset, and if he’s not open, the distraction his presence is likely to cause will open up other targets underneath.

As the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals the last three seasons, Gruden oversaw a passing offense that improved from 20th to 17th to eighth.

The additional talent out wide, and an offseason for Griffin without injury concerns, should help the Redskins make a similar climb in the coming years.

“I think we have a good group of guys here,” Jackson said last month. “Playing against them the past couple years and now being a part of them is very interesting. But I like it, so it’s all good.”

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