ASHBURN — There was a miniature flurry of concern last Wednesday when Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson did not participate in team drills during a practice session. A week later, Doctson was back in the fold.
The Redskins are being semi-cautious with Doctson, who spent some time on a bike off to the sidelines Wednesday but participated in team drills. A careful approach is warranted with Doctson, who missed all but two games last season due to trouble in both his Achilles tendons, and the Redskins are making sure he gets ample rest as he is worked into what should be a significant role in the offense.
Coach Jay Gruden said that rest, and nothing involving either of Doctson’s Achilles tendons, was why the player didn’t take on a full workload last week.
“Nothing to it [last week],” Gruden said Wednesday. “Just a little rest.”
Wednesday, in an optional workout open to the media, Doctson caught a number of passes from quarterback Kirk Cousins, one of which required a well-timed leap and good body control as Doctson caught it with one hand, falling backward.
Doctson looked in good form and mixed in with the first team, though fellow wide receiver Ryan Grant worked more steadily with the ones.
“They’re both good receivers,” Gruden said. “They’re both going to play.”
One reason Gruden likes Grant is versatility. Gruden said that, while Grant can line up “all over the place,” the Redskins see Doctson mainly as a Z receiver.
“See how he does,” Gruden said. “But Ryan can play all three spots, very good blocker, can do a little bit of everything.”
The Z receiver lines up off the line on the strong side of formations with a typical Y or in-line tight end and has more freedom to go in motion than the X receiver, who is split out on the weak side.
“Yeah, he can play both, but right now we’re trying to start him at Z and see how it goes,” Gruden said. “That would be the plan.”
The Z receiver runs a greater variety of short and intermediate routes than the X, who is more typically a burner, and takes on more responsibility as a blocker. Pierre Garcon, one of Doctson’s greatest influences, played a similar role with DeSean Jackson more often using his speed as the split receiver.
“[Pierre] was probably the best route runner I’ve ever seen in person,” Doctson said during the first week of optional practices in May. “So just watching him and how he broke down, full speed, was just, it’s just incredible to watch as a receiver.
“I just get excited about that so just coming out, trying to do what he did in terms of running his routes is what I’m trying to master.”
Doctson has the traits and skills to play X or Z but, since he has said that he’s still working on his timing with Washington’s quarterbacks, where he spends offseason workouts and training camp is presumably where he will be best prepared to play come September. The Redskins will likely split Terrelle Pryor Sr. out wide quite often because of how difficult it is for cornerbacks to cover him man-to-man.
Gruden mentioned last week that he sees a difficult roster battle shaping up at wide receiver. Doctson vs. Grant is not necessarily a key focal point of that battle, as Doctson’s draft status all but ensures him a roster spot.
Grant also seems to be in the Redskins plans but, he has developed some track record of high performance during the spring and summer that hasn’t been matched during the regular season.
Offseason workouts mean different things to different players. For Doctson in particular, the next few months will require balancing a cautious approach to his health with defining and becoming comfortable in his role in the Redskins offense. Over the past three weeks, that role has started to take shape.