Robert Griffin III had his worst game as a pro, but the media at large has been hesitant to chalk it up to a typical rookie game. It’s likely that the game is completely different if half of the dropped balls. The loss was frustrating, because as is usually the case with the Redskins offense, it usually beats itself. (This is unlike the defense, which just gets beat.)
The Redskins receiving core dropped 10 balls in the game. The weather didn’t help, but it wasn’t exactly raining cats and dogs, and they were wearing gloves.
And Robert didn’t always deliver the best ball either. Dezmon Briscoe’s first and only catch (after dropping one in the end zone) came on a pass that was behind him. Still, if the ball hits you in the hands, you’re expected to catch it.
But it’s been interesting, watching the reaction the receiving core having a bad game; moreover, it’s been interesting seeing certain Redskins fans twist themselves into pretzels trying to figure out how we could trade for disgruntled Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, since clearly our talent at wide receiver is beyond repair in their mind.
When we entered this season, certainly no one thought that we’d more or less lose Pierre Garçon after the first game. And what we are left with in his absence are only two receivers out of the 6 wide receivers who actually play receiver (I’m not counting Banks) that have significant NFL experience, while at tight end, our number one tight end is an undrafted free agent, one guy is making a position shift, and the other is Chris Cooley, who is working his way back into shape.
We have a very young group of wide receivers. Leonard Hankerson only played in 4 games before suffering a hip labrum injury in 2011; Aldrick Robinson didn’t play at all and spent the entire 2011 season the practice squad; Niles Paul played in a lot of games, but mostly as a blocker and on special teams. Dezmon Briscoe technically played in 16 games, but only started in 2 (though he did score 5 touchdowns).
I’m learning quickly that calls for patience when it comes to young player fall on deaf ears. Too many people bring up how people asked for patience with Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas didn’t pay off (even though patience with Fred Davis eventually did). In the NFL, receivers are expected to come in and contribute right away, or be cast aside for the next free agent, or the next draft pick. If I had to guess, it’s because people figure that, out of all the positions on the field, receiver has to be the easiest.
“You have one job! CATCH THE FOOTBALL!”
Well, not quite. I mean, that may be their primary job, but you can’t be stupid and play receiver in the NFL. It’s not simply a matter of getting open and catching the ball; a receiver has to learn all the terminology, just like the quarterback does, and understand what he has to do on every given play. And then know what every other receiver has to know so two receivers don’t end up in the same spot. And then they have to get to the line of scrimmage and diagnose the coverage, and based on the coverage, their route can be completely different from the one called in the huddle.
When the ball is snapped, they have to figure out what the defensive back is doing. They have to diagnose blitzes to make sure their available to the quarterback for hot routes, and navigate through crowds of 200-300 pound men who’s only goal is to squish them. Oh yeah, and they have to catch the football.
It’s a ton for a young, inexperienced receiver to think about. For guys like Josh Morgan and Santana Moss, who have played for multiple years, in multiple offenses, it’s second nature. But for the young guys? It’s hard to think about anything but not screwing up all the things you have to do before the ball is thrown.
So then what should be the “easy” part becomes the hard part. Leonard Hankerson’s touchdown drop was the same kind of drop I always see from Hankerson, and it’s the kind of drop that we all see from young receivers all the time; he took his eye off the ball. Instead of looking the ball into his hands, he peaked at the goal line.
On Dezmon Briscoe’s drop in the end zone, he had his man beat, but he allowed the ball to get into his body, which gave the DB time to come back and strip the ball.
On Aldrick’s drop…well, Aldrick got held. He tried to one hand the ball, but it didn’t work.
Niles Paul’s drops are of the same variety of Hank’s. With the younger receivers, it’s all the same kind of mistake. Typically they don’t all compound on one day like they did on Sunday, but sometimes, those situations happen. Sunday was the first day most of these young receivers saw extensive playing time, and they played like the young, inexperienced wide receivers that they are.
I understand the frustration; for some, it must feel like we’ve finally got our franchise quarterback, and now we can’t find anyone to catch the ball. But you get what you ask for, and this is part of having a younger football team. The average age of our receiving core without Santana Moss is 24.
That’s a lot of young guys all learning at once.
To some fans it’s easy to claim that other teams have wide receivers that come in and explode all the time, but that’s not quite true. Victor Cruz had a break out season last year, but that was after spending 5 games on the bench, and the remainder of the year on injured reserve. Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson took three seasons before he shattered Packers records in 2011. Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were both drafted in 2010, and while quarterback issues were part of their struggle to break out, both of them are on pace for career season.
This year there were four receivers selected in the first round. Of the four, former Baylor receiver Kendall Wright (who was though to be a fringe first rounder at best) is having the best season by far. The first receiver selected, Justin Blackmon, only has 18 catches for 193 yards. Michael Floyd has 13 receptions for 127 yards. A.J Jenkins has yet to record a reception or see any significant playing time whatsoever.
Highly toughed second round picks Stephen Hill and Reueben Randle have also struggled in their first years.
Receivers getting accustomed to the nuisances of playing receiver in their first couple years is nothing new. For every Andre Johnson or Julio Jones or A.J Green, there are more examples of receivers who needed a year or two to really come on strong and develop into top receivers.
Wide receiver has not been a position that’s been kind to the Redskins, which is where much of the anger where not being good enough soon enough comes from, whether it’s fair to the players we have or not. But this is what we asked for when we wanted this team to be deep and more talented. Every one that comes off the bench can’t be a Pro Bowler right away.
I’d also caution those fans who complain that these receivers have no heart, drive or passion to hold their tongues. It’s easy to say “he should’ve laid out” here or “he should’ve dived forward” there, without actually being on the field. Let’s see you dive head first as a linebacker hurls himself at you at high speed, and then maybe we can talk a little about heart.
“Patience” is a word used a lot. But if we are truly going to be a great football team, we have to go through these growing pains. We’re not likely to get a Calvin Johnson or a Larry Fitzgerald (by the way; both of them had less than 1,000 yards receiving their first year in the league) any time soon. Allowing our young pass catchers to develop helps us all and also ensures we won’t always have to dip into the free agency pot every time we need one.
Let the ghost of Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas rest in peace. God knows the rest of the league has.