Redskins hope new receivers help offense

The Sports Xchange

In 2006, the Redskins spent large to add free-agent receivers Antwaan Randle El from Pittsburgh and Brandon Lloyd from San Francisco. Randle El was decent but nothing more for four years while Lloyd was a flat-out bust during his two seasons in Washington. So in 2008, the Redskins used two of their first three draft picks on receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. They combined for just 49 catches, 473 yards and three touchdowns before being let go in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

But never let it be said that Washington doesn't try, try again. Just hours after the free-agent signing period began on March 13, the Redskins shelled out $28 million guaranteed to lure receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan from Indianapolis and San Francisco, respectively.

"I thought without a doubt that (Pierre) was the best wideout available," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "You don't look at stats. Wide receivers can't really control whether they get the ball. You look at how the guy is wired. Can he get off the bump (coverage)? Does he have the physical tools to separate from NFL corners? Does he have good hands? Is he physical? Pierre is as fast as can be. He can get off bump. He can get in and out of his breaks. He has good hands and he's fearless. He'll block as good as anyone. He's everything I look for in a wide receiver. Josh is the same thing. Josh doesn't have the numbers that other guys have had, (but) he can naturally get off bump. He's got great hands. He's a physical guy who runs through every ball. He's very good after the catch. He'll put his face in people in the running game."

Washington also gave St. Louis three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder for the right to draft Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to throw to Garcon and Morgan. No pressure, right, guys?

"Every time you play in the league there's pressure whether you're a sixth-round pick or a first-day free agent," said the 25-year-old Garcon, a graduate of Division III Mount Union (Ohio).

"It's home and it was my favorite team so it's hard to turn down an opportunity like that, especially when you (can) come in and contribute right away," said Washington native/Virginia Tech product Morgan, adding that he believes that he will join Garcon as a starter. "It was the whole situation, playing with a quarterback like (Griffin), the same West Coast system I'm used to in San Francisco. It's a win-win all-around."

Jabar Gaffney, last year's most productive wideout -- was cut after a profane outburst on Twitter this spring, but Santana Moss, Washington's top receiver from 2005-10, is still part of the Redskins' family as are Anthony Armstrong -- third in the league in yards per catch as a starter in 2010 -- and Leonard Hankerson, a third-round selection in 2011 who posted a 105-yard game in the Week 10 contest in which he suffered a season-ending hip injury.

"We've got to let that play out," coach Mike Shanahan said when asked who his starters are heading into training camp. "But when you go after a guy like Pierre and you go after a guy like Josh, you've got a guy like Leonard, you know there are three guys right at the top of the list that are playmakers, and that's what we're looking for."

While Morgan, 27, has yet to have a true breakout season, never producing more than 52 catches, 698 yards or three touchdowns, Garcon set career-highs with 70 catches, 947 yards and six touchdowns last season.

"Every time I get the ball in my hands, I want to make the best play or the biggest play that I can," Garcon said.

Morgan, drafted 31 choices before Garcon in 2008, is no less confident although he missed the final 11 games of last season with a broken ankle that kept him from going full-speed this spring.

"Give me the ball, that's my favorite pattern," he said. "I love running slants (and) anything in the end zone."

--Last year, established regular LaRon Landry and veteran free-agent pickup Oshiomogho Atogwe were going to be Washington's safeties, if healthy.

However, with the oft-injured Landry not having been re-signed and Atogwe having been released after a disappointing season, the back end of the Redskins' defense is wide open.

Washington has added veteran safeties Tanard Jackson, Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams as well as seventh-rounder Jordan Bernstine to compete with longtime backup Reed Doughty and 2011 fifth-rounder DeJon Gomes, the safety tandem for the final four games last year.

Jim Haslett called Doughty "steady Eddie" and said that Gomes has "really grown up" since last season, but it's the newcomers with NFL experience that have Washington's defensive coordinator excited.

"Brandon is really athletic and really instinctive," Haslett said. "He's got a great nose for the ball. You can see why he was in the Pro Bowl. Madieu is really, really smart. He's kind of like having a coach on the field. (Tanard's) like having a corner back there. He can cover a lot of ground."

And yet, all three newcomers have serious issues.

The 28-year-old Meriweather, who was arrested on a DUI charge less than six weeks after signing with Washington, was accused of freelancing and of dishing out borderline hits in New England and Chicago, each of whom found him wanting during the last year even though he was a Pro Bowl selection for the Patriots in 2009 and 2010.

Jackson, who turns 27 next month and missed much of the offseason while recovering from knee and shoulder injuries, was suspended for a total of 20 games the past three years after positive drug tests with Tampa Bay.

And while the 30-year-old Williams is a solid citizen, he intercepted just one pass and defensed just six more the past three seasons perhaps showing that he's longer starter material as San Francisco determined in 2011.

"It's a very competitive situation," said Jackson, a Washington-area native like Maryland graduate Williams. "It should bring out the greatness in all of us. We've all got chips on our shoulders so the Redskins are going to get the best out of all of us."

That would be a boon to the Redskins since Meriweather, Jackson and Williams combined for 10 interceptions, 21 passes defensed and four forced fumbles in 2009. Compare those stats to the three interceptions (all by Atogwe), 14 passes defensed and three forced fumbles for which Landry, Atogwe, Doughty and Gomes produced in 2011.

"I think we held our own, but there could have been a higher level of play, for sure," said Doughty, the only one of the current safeties who has been in Washington for more than a season. "I don't think we lost any games, but we didn't win any either. We need to make more plays on the back end."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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