Robert Griffin III wasn’t seen on the field Wednesday in Washington’s preseason finale, but all eyes will be on him once the season starts.
Who he has his eyes on downfield will be another story, one of the biggest questions surrounding the 2012 campaign. But no matter who winds up on the receiving end of RG3’s passes, the Redskins will boast a deep and talented corps of wideouts.
Griffin’s transition was made easier the moment Washington acquired Pierre Garcon. Presumably a No. 1-type receiver, Garcon simply has to prove that his success wasn’t based solely on Peyton Manning’s arm and smarts. We’ve watched great quarterbacks elevate middling receivers (Tom Brady and Deion Branch).
But we’ve also witnessed veteran pass-catchers propel rookie QBs (Steve Smith and Cam Newton).
RG3 and Garcon haven’t had much time together in live action, but they’re bonding nonetheless. Of Griffin’s 31 attempts and 20 completions in the preseason, Garcon was targeted 15 times and made eight receptions. They just missed hooking up on a couple of long throws Saturday, but their budding relationship looks promising.
“It’s just about throwing the deep balls, and we need to practice that a little bit more in practice whenever we get a chance to,” RG3 said after the 30-17 win against Indianapolis. “If it’s on our own, we can do that. It’s something that just comes. The more comfortable we get with each other, I can figure out their speed and how they like the deep ball thrown for them individually.”
We know Garcon will be a frequent and favorite target. But deciphering the rest of the receiver mix — outside of Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson — is challenging. With the release of Chris Cooley, Moss is the team’s most-tenured offensive player, entering his eighth season with the Redskins. The infusion of talent, youth and competition at his position has rejuvenated him, to the point that he entered camp 16 pounds lighter and volunteered to return punts.
Seeing Moss drop back for punt returns (and Niles Paul do likewise for kickoffs), doesn’t help Brandon Banks sleep at night. The diminutive darter is the most-intriguing wideout on the bubble, though it has nothing to do with his pass-catching skills.
Actually, there’s been little evidence of said skills, ever since Shanahan declared that Banks must make the team as a receiver and not just a kick returner.
The threat of Banks breaking a long return has been tantalizing enough to secure his spot on the roster the past two years. Giving him a third season surely is tempting. But Banks’ production has fallen far short of his potential.
In two seasons, he has one touchdown in 171 combined punt/kick returns; in the same span, Chicago’s Devin Hester has six TDs in 106 combined returns.
“When a guy has game-breaking potential and ability, which [Banks] has shown, it’s tough not to keep a guy like that,” Shanahan said this month after Banks returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown against Chicago. “But we have a lot of competition. Who else can return punts? Who else can play wide receiver? That is what you have to evaluate, and sometimes you let some good football players go.”
I think Banks will be one of those good players let go, as well as Anthony Armstrong (done in by a bum shoulder during training camp) and Terrence Austin (who failed to distinguish himself in a crowded numbers game).
That would give the final receiving slots to Dezmon Briscoe, whose pickup could be a steal, and Aldrick Robinson, making the leap from 2011 practice squad to 2012 active roster. Add them to Garcon, Moss, Morgan and Hankerson, and RG3 would have a versatile group of outside targets at his disposal. With tight ends Fred Davis and Niles Paul providing additional options, it’s possible that no one pass-catcher will have monster numbers.
But every single catch and every single yard will boost RG3’s numbers, if not the team’s won-lost record.
The Redskins’ overall results this season might be as ugly as the past three (15 wins combined). However, 2012 could mark the start of a pretty passing attack, no matter who’s on the other end for RG3.