- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2017

PHOENIX — Things change quickly in the NFL, faster than the change-in-direction atop a comeback route. For the Redskins, one of the most notable areas of change this offseason has been at wide receiver, with the free agency losses of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

“Outside looking in, it’s a major impact,” coach Jay Gruden said Tuesday from the NFL owners’ meetings in Arizona. “Those two guys had 1,000 yards apiece. DeSean is the fastest receiver in the game and one of the biggest play receivers of all time, quite frankly. Pierre, the toughness he has, consistency he has, his work ethic, the balls he catches and the runs after catch, it’ll be hard to top.

“However, Jamison [Crowder], Ryan [Grant], Josh [Doctson], now we have Terrelle Pryor, Maurice Harris, [Brian] Quick, I feel pretty good. People seem to forget that the offense runs through Jordan [Reed], so I think we’ll be fine. That’s my positive outlook.”

Jackson and Garcon out, Pryor, Quick and Doctson in. Doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t exactly scream surefire upgrade. It does provide the Redskins with a diverse array of options given the size and skill-sets represented.

“I like big receivers personally but I also like little ones like Jamison,” Gruden said. “I think it’s a great advantage to have when you have 6-foot-5, 6-foot-3 with a guy that has a 40-inch vertical then you throw Crowder in there with a great change of direction.”

One of the key tasks for the new group of receivers will be improving in the red zone. The Redskins offense that was third in yards but only 12th in points last season.

Getting taller, in theory, could help that. The Redskins added a pair of 6-foot-4 receivers in Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick, while losing Jackson, who is 5-foot- 10, and Garcon, who is 6-feet tall.

“We’re going to throw a lot of fades now,” Gruden joked.

“It doesn’t change a whole lot. I think there are some things that you are more comfortable doing with a bigger guy, like watch them run under a catch and all that stuff. The physicality at the line of scrimmage and some of the route concepts might change a little but not a whole lot. We have a very good system in place that can be successful.”

Gruden said that Cousins will have to get used to throwing to his new targets and develop his understanding of what kind of catch radius he can get away with during training camp.

Still, Gruden said that getting taller isn’t a fix-all in the red zone.

“There’s other issues without a doubt,” he said. “Our running game has got to improve down there, or what runs we call down there have to improve. And some of the pass concepts, we’ve got to get our quarterback more comfortable.”

Gruden said that Cousins needs to feel more comfortable extending plays. Pryor can potentially be effective because his size will allow him to get open by exploiting matchups, but Cousins needs to stay cool while passing lanes develop.

Cousins has been working out with Pryor, Crowder and Doctson in Florida. (They happen to train under Jon Gruden, Jay’s brother, though the two Grudens aren’t allowed to communicate about the players’ progress or work, nor can the Redskins recommend that players go there to train.)

Regardless of facility, the benefit of having them all together is that it allows Cousins to get a feel for his targets, particularly given their different shapes and sizes. Cousins is used to throwing to Crowder and Reed, but with Pryor and Quick as new additions and Doctson newly healthy, it’ll take some getting used to.

Pryor, too, is still developing as a receiver. Both Gruden and Hue Jackson, Pryor’s former coach with the Browns, said that Pryor still thinks too much about his route running and needs to get more polished.

“Sometimes,[wide] receivers, when they first start playing [wide] receiver, they count steps, [and] they’re like, “Okay, 1,2,3,4,5,6,” then it becomes natural, and you can start looking at a defender, and give them a little wiggle at the top of your break, or maybe it’s coming out of a comeback route, or a short Puma route that we call it, or curl route, coming back to your quarterback, instead of maybe waiting for the ball to come to you where the defender can knock it down,” Gruden said.

“There’s nuances to the game that he’s going [to learn]. Those are all things that he can work on, and he did great on some of them. Some of them he was very effective [on], some of them he can work on, [like] reading zones and some of our option routes.”

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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