- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

A week ago Washington Redskins wide receiver Rod Gardner was being called "50-50" by teammates. Plagued by drops, the rookie jokingly was said to have 50-50 odds of catching any given ball.

This week it's "208," for the mammoth total of receiving yards Gardner posted in Sunday's win over the Carolina Panthers.

Now he's looking at "60-1,000" or perhaps simply "No. 1."

The former designation would refer to the receptions and receiving yards plateaus Gardner is on pace to challenge. Both are standards for standout seasons. Gardner (22 catches, 417 yards) is set to finish with 59 receptions and 1,112 yards.

Those numbers, in turn, would earn the second moniker, making Gardner, the 15th overall selection in April's draft, the top rookie receiver in team history.

Art Monk, the Redskins' all-time leading receiver, holds the franchise rookie marks with 58 catches and 797 yards. If Gardner says healthy, he should challenge the first record and easily break the second.

And that's exactly what he wants.

"It's a goal I'm shooting for," Gardner said yesterday, his 24th birthday. "I'm trying to break as many rookie records as I can. All I have to do is keep my focus."

Gardner also is set to become the top rookie receiver on a team coached by Marty Schottenheimer. The leaders are Webster Slaughter, a Cleveland Browns second-round pick who caught 40 balls for 577 yards in 1986, and Tim Barnett, a Kansas City Chiefs third-rounder who had 41 catches for 564 yards in 1991.

Schottenheimer called Gardner a cross between Slaughter, who weighed just 165 pounds as a rookie, and Barnett, who played slightly smaller than Gardner's 6-foot-2, 218-pound frame. The coach added, "Rod's probably got more speed than either one of them."

"It's exciting to see a young player like [Gardner] who has ability, to see him work hard," Schottenheimer said. "He's in here early every morning looking at tape with the other young receivers. He's invested time in this thing and it was delightful to see him make progress."

Gardner's projected totals obviously got a big boost from his six-catch, 208-yard effort against Carolina, in which he had an 85-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and a 47-yard reception in overtime to set up the winning field goal.

Before the Panthers game, Gardner made a few big plays but was becoming better known for his drops. Gardner struggled to perform his most fundamental duty because he often lost concentration thinking about running before making the catch.

"It's a matter of [being] a young player," Schottenheimer said. "When you have talented young players who work hard like Rod Gardner, they're going to have [good] moments like they did last week, and they're going to have some [bad ones] like the previous games. You can't accelerate the process dramatically with a young player."

Quarterback Tony Banks sees similarities between Gardner and Eddie Kennison, who starred as a rookie in 1996 for the St. Louis Rams. Banks was a Rams rookie starter that year, too. Kennison, the draft's 18th overall pick who now plays for the Denver Broncos, caught 54 passes for 924 yards and nine touchdowns.

"When you come in as a high-drafted rookie, especially at that position, you've got oodles of confidence," Banks said. "That's what Eddie had his rookie year. He had the confidence that he couldn't be stopped, and for the most part he couldn't that year.

"He had a few drops, but he kept coming back because he wasn't used to dropping the ball. In college, you're not used to making every play. Rod's the same way."

To Gardner, the reason for perseverance is even more simple.

"Hard work," Gardner said. "Dedication, baby."

Those qualities allow Gardner to set high goals. Although he stresses that his first hope is to help Washington (1-5) increase its minuscule win total, he is happy to start projecting numbers and more potential nicknames.

"You've got to make goals," Gardner said. "That's the only way you can achieve. You've got to set yourself at a standard that you're trying to reach. I've always set my standards high, regardless of whether I reached them or not."

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