- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mike Shanahan didn’t like what he saw Wednesday morning as the Washington Redskins went through position drills. Second-year wide receiver Anthony Armstrong drifted toward the sideline after catching a pass instead of sharply turning upfield. Shanahan was displeased enough to stop the drill and correct the mistake.

Shanahan’s voice was firm as he spoke to the group. It was a hands-on attempt to improve a receiving corps that he identified as a weakness after his first season as coach.

Broader efforts included drafting three receivers in April and trading for two veterans in the last week. The goal is to bring out the best in players by intensifying competition for roster spots.

“We’ve got two guys with experience, and then we’ve got a lot of guys behind them with a lot of talent,” Shanahan said. “So I feel very good about our receiver position. I believe we’re four or five deep on each side, and I’m looking forward to seeing who takes advantage of the opportunity.”

To gauge exactly how far the Redskins‘ receivers have come since last season, all you need to know is that 38-year-old Joey Galloway started the first four games. With all due respect to the 16-year pro, his best years were way behind him. Defenses hardly felt threatened, and Galloway was released 10 games into the season with only 12 receptions.

This year’s group figures to be more dynamic. After re-signing leading receiver Santana Moss, they traded for nine-year veteran Jabar Gaffney, who had 65 catches for 875 yards with Denver last season. They also signed free agent Donte’ Stallworth

Washington also used third-, fifth- and sixth-round picks on Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson, respectively.

“I’ve been places where you can just know a guy is nowhere near ready,” said Armstrong, who had 871 receiving yards in his first season. “The guys that are here have legitimate ability and have the ability to make the team and play. It’s pretty stiff competition.”

It all looks OK on paper, but adding so many new faces is somewhat problematic because the offseason program was lost to the NFL lockout. The rookies and recent additions are cramming playbook study sessions, trying to get to the point where they can be productive.

Hankerson and Robinson spend what little free time they have during training camp quizzing each other about plays. Before they go to bed each night, they review the script for the next day’s practice. They draw up plays on a notebook and call them out to each other.

“Say I walk out the room and I come back in, he’ll just say a play and I’ll call it,” Hankerson said. “Then we’re just sitting in the room. He’ll say, “Just throw anything at me. You can’t miss me right now.’ “

It’s a work in progress. In Wednesday’s practice, Hankerson separated from a defender on a slant, but he slowed his pace after he got free. Quarterback John Beck led Hankerson with the throw, but it ended up being out of reach.

“Speed of the game is going to kill them first,” receivers coach Keenan McCardell said. “They can slow it down if they know their alignment and assignments. If they don’t, the speed of the game is going to eat them up.”

Other receivers such as Malcolm Kelly, Brandon Banks and Terrence Austin can’t be overlooked, either. All of those returning players have some level of experience in the offense.

Kelly is the most intriguing of that bunch. The 2008 second-round pick has yet to reach his potential because of injuries, but he has played well at the start of camp. On Wednesday, he lined up as the No. 3 receiver in situational drills.

Now, it seems, the Redskins at least have some formidable options. For an offense in need of a spark, that’s an auspicious start.

“We had some [last year], but not as much as we have now,” McCardell said. “We have a whole bunch right now. It’s good for me. You can just plug people in at certain positions and see their natural talents go to work.”

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