- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. Is Washington Redskins receiver Rod Gardner too big for coach Steve Spurrier's offense?

A scheme seemingly relying on small, darting receivers makes the 6-foot-2 Gardner a giant target for defenders. Gardner is several inches taller than Jacquez Green, Kevin Lockett and Reidel Anthony and relies more on physical style than speed.

Gardner inherits the No.1 role following the free agent departure of Michael Westbrook and his strong rookie season. There's no uncertainty over his role in the expected multi-receiver sets as the first option. Gardner simply dismisses any speculation of not blending well with the new offense.

"If you can run and catch the ball, you'll be in the offense," Gardner said. "You just have to get open. Throwing the ball up in the air gives me opportunities, and it doesn't matter what size I am."

Receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said the system's reputation at Florida for smaller receivers is misleading.

"Historically, my dad has just had smaller, faster receivers," said Spurrier, who previously was a Florida assistant. "He just never had big ones. We recruited the big ones, but when you get a couple small ones that are good, that stereotype haunts you for the rest of your recruiting. All the small, fast ones want to come and the big ones don't."

Gardner wants at least 80 catches this season compared with 46 last year, when he started all 16 games as a first-round pick. Gardner's 741 yards led Washington, including 208 with an 85-yard touchdown against Carolina.

But Gardner sees his total as just five catches per game, a number he exceeded only once. With Spurrier adapting the "Fun 'N' Gun" to the NFL, Redskins receivers should be buzzing around the field.

"You can't help but smile," Gardner said. "Spurrier has a great history. We'll be nothing but happy he's in the system. I think Spurrier will give us all opportunities."

Gardner has learned the scheme after struggling during early offseason camps. Now he can fend off defensive backs without worrying whether he's still on course. Spurrier said yesterday that Gardner has greatly improved his routes.

"It's 80 percent mental," Gardner said. "You have to know how to run routes and get open, but you have to learn what you're supposed to do."

The quarterbacks have noticed Gardner gaining increased efficiency in a timing system that is unforgiving to sloppy routes.

"He was pretty raw last year, and in this offense you have to be precise," quarterback Sage Rosenfels said. "He's put in extra time to get his steps and routes right."

Said quarterback Shane Matthews: "We don't look to receivers. We look to certain areas of the field."

Cornerback Fred Smoot has been close to Gardner since he was chosen in the second round last year. The two often measure their progress against each other in practice. When Smoot said he wanted to be known as "Show Time," the nickname quickly was shortened to "Show." Gardner joked that he wanted to be known as "Show Stopper."

"Rod reminds me of Sterling Sharpe," Smoot said. "He's gotten a lot smarter. He does the little things that get you separation. Any receiver would love being in Spurrier's offense, so how could he not fit?"

Gardner enjoys the leadership role he inherited upon Westbrook's departure. He returned more confident after a rookie season that sometimes seemed baffling with one only catch in four games and two in five games. Now Gardner has his own posse of receivers that ride with him to practice in a Cadillac Escalade with the music so loud that nearby windows probably rattle.

"You look at us together and think 'They can't be receivers with him,'" Gardner said of his smaller teammates. "But they have speed, agility and quickness. All of us working together will be a combination of styles. When we put it together, we'll be hard to beat."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide