Tuesday, August 22, 2006

When Santana Moss was traded before last season, his destination was Washington. But the former New York Jets complementary receiver felt like he had landed on the other side of the rainbow.

Moss caught a 52-yard pass in his Redskins debut before earning a spot among the league’s elite receivers the next week by hauling in two late touchdown bombs from Mark Brunell to stun the host Dallas Cowboys on “Monday Night Football.”

Moss finished the season with a career-high 84 catches, a franchise-record 1,483 receiving yards and a team-high nine touchdowns, helping the Redskins make the playoffs for the first time in six years and earning his first Pro Bowl appearance.

“Last year was as close to perfect you can get without winning the Super Bowl,” Moss said. “The Redskins went and got me, so I couldn’t do anything in return except be the player I was. The trade allowed me to go somewhere where they really appreciate my gifts.”

There’s no doubt that the Redskins appreciate the dynamic 5-foot-10, 190-pound Miami native. Brunell, who had spent most of his career throwing to Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, two of the top 10 receivers in catches, was skeptical when he heard the Redskins had swapped disgruntled wideout Laveranues Coles (90 catches in 2004) for Moss (45).

“You look at the numbers and you think, who got the better of that deal?” Brunell said, thinking back to his skepticism about the trade. “Santana was a big surprise. He was incredible.”

Only fellow Pro Bowl starter Steve Smith of Carolina was further ahead of his team’s No. 2 receiver in catches than Moss.

Receivers coach Stan Hixon said Moss did more than the coaching staff thought he would.

“Santana makes plays that the average receiver doesn’t make,” Hixon said. “He’s like a center fielder on a deep ball. I’m not even sure that he’s 5-10, but he can jump up high to make the catch. Santana deserved an ‘A’ for last year. Now he’s going for an A-plus. If anything, he’s even more determined than he was last year.”

Despite his terrific Washington debut, Moss tailed off after No. 2 wideout David Patten was lost for the year at midseason. Moss was routinely shadowed by two defenders after Patten went down. To avoid a repeat this year, the Redskins traded for acrobatic wideout Brandon Lloyd and signed versatile receiver Antwaan Randle El before most teams had even begun to welcome free agents to their complexes.

“It’s going to be better for Santana because he’ll see fewer double-teams and fewer times that the coverage will roll his way,” Hixon said.

“I don’t try to equal last year,” Moss said. “I try to be better. I’m going to get some [extra] attention in Week 1, but with Brandon and Antwaan, we’re going to be rolling. We’re going to make room for each other. I might have fewer catches, but I don’t worry about that.”

What Moss envisions is a replica of the St. Louis offense of 1999-2001, when either Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt or Isaac Bruce ran free on seemingly every play as the Rams scattered defenses and went to two Super Bowls, winning one.

“Last year allowed me to show what kind of player I could be when the pressure was on me,” Moss said. “I knew I was going to be double-teamed, but I always went out and performed. That’s what the elite guys on this level do. I made a step toward that last year. With that confidence, I prepared myself knowing that this year would be a lot different, the offense would be a lot different.”

Different in part because of the addition of Lloyd and Randle El and because new associate head coach-offense Al Saunders plans to throw deep more often than Gibbs’ Redskins did last year.

“Last year, I knew I was always going to see the ball,” Moss said. “Now, you have to make sure you’re open. I think it’s going to be like when I was watching the Rams in college. There will be enough balls for everybody. That’s how it was when I was at [the University of] Miami. We had me, Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Wayne, Najeh Davenport, Clinton [Portis] and James Jackson. The year before that we had Edgerrin James and Bubba Franks and we all put up big numbers.”

So what does Moss expect from himself this season?

“Honestly, there’s no limit to what I can be, but I’d like to go out and do it before I sit here and talk about it,” Moss said. “I don’t set goals because then you’re setting limits.”

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