With seven receivers in the mix for the Redskins, Mike Shanahan has plenty to choose from. So much in fact that all seven have dressed at one point or another this season, and each has caught a pass.
“There’s a lot of competition at the wide receiver position,” Shanahan said.
An injury to Santana Moss left the door open for several of the younger receivers on the roster, and on Sunday against San Francisco, rookie Leonard Hankerson not only dressed but drew the start in the third game of his professional career.
While there wasn’t any single jump-out-of-your seat moment, Hankerson appeared more at ease than in previous games, catching four passes for 34 yards and a two-point conversion following the Redskins only touchdown of the game.
“When you’re very comfortable, you can go out there and pretty much know your assignment and get the [corner] one-on-one,” he said. “You can just put a little hot sauce on a route or anything you’re doing. You can just play around with the DB if you’re very comfortable.”
That’s a far cry from the preseason, where the athletic 6’2”, 209-pound specimen struggled to pick up the mental aspects of football, routinely dropping passes in practice and games.
Hankerson’s ragged performance early on put a damper on the high expectations that came with being a high-profile draftee out of Miami, and he was inactive for the first five games of the season. The raw talent was clearly there, but he had to learn there is no substitute for consistent practice habits and a strong work ethic.
Always one to reward players with such qualities, Shanahan praised Hankerson’s recent efforts in his postgame press conference. On Monday, the coach once again spoke highly of the young receiver.
“Hankerson has been pretty consistent, so we wanted to give him an opportunity,” he said. “He showed us during the game that he deserves to be the starter again next week.”
Shanahan’s vote of confidence should only help Hankerson’s growth as he’ll continue to receive valuable playing time in a year where the Redskins are going with younger players in light of the injuries plaguing the offense.
Without Moss and several other key offensive members, it’s been trial by fire for Hankerson, Roy Helu, Maurice Hurt and others, but a chance to play is chance to play.
It’s also a chance to learn.
“It comes a whole lot easier,” he said when asked about how key it was to get in-game experience.
Now that his early frustrations are behind him, Hankerson has a prime opportunity to carve out a role with the Redskins for this season and beyond. He has frequently mentioned how important it is to “put in work” and for now it’s paying off.
“We wanted to give him an opportunity,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s a difference-maker in this league. He’s got a chance to be an elite receiver. You can see it in practice -- his ability to beat bump coverage one-on-one. I think down the road it will pay dividends for us.”