The Washington Post

Redskins rookie Leonard Hankerson trying to eliminate mental glitches


Stop thinking, and catch the ball.

Drafted in the third round out of Miami, Hankerson potentially could give the Redskins the big target that they have lacked for years now. Standing at 6-foot-3, weighing 205 pounds and boasting hands that measure 10-1/2 inches wide – the largest of any rookie at the combine – Hankerson has all the tools to be a prime red-zone and possession threat.

But he has to catch the ball first. Throughout training camp and the preseason, Hankerson has made spectacular, acrobatic grabs, only to drop the ball on routine pass plays.

In each of his two preseason games, the drops have hung over Hankerson’s head. In the preseason opener, he likely would have scored a touchdown if he could’ve secured the ball. Last week against Indianapolis, Hankerson dropped the first pass that came his way. He got back on track, caught the next three passes and finished with 46 yards receiving.

Despite the struggles, Coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan both continue to express confidence in Hankerson. Kyle Shanahan said the drops are a result of mental lapses that can plague any rookie adjusting to the NFL.

“I think he’s not used to coming off the bench,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I don’t think he’s ever done that in his life. Guys like that, their eyes aren’t ready, and the speed of the game, they’re off. We need him catching balls more on the sideline and getting ready, and have the mindset that there’s no makeup play. Even if it’s the last play of the game and he hasn’t played all game, he needs to be ready like it’s the first play of the game. It just shows what rookies go through.”

Hankerson acknowledged that he is going through growing pains.

“I’m still adjusting, man. Coming from college, the ball comes out quicker here in the NFL,” Hankerson said. “You turn your head and it’s already there. I’m just adjusting to looking it all the way in and trying to slow it down. Being that No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 guy on the depth chart, you wanna prove a point and go out and make a play. But I need to stop worrying about all that and go out there like I have been the last three years and make a play.”

Hankerson is one of the most prolific receivers in Miami history, so he’s used to playing in the spotlight. But the pressure of battling for a roster spot in the NFL has proved daunting. Hankerson has sought the advice of veteran teammates, all of whom have told him to simply play, and not focus on the situation.

“Coming off the bench in the third quarter is nerve racking. But I need to take my opportunities as they come and make plays to help this team,” Hankerson said. “I need to capitalize when I get in there, because that could be the last time I ever play. I need to put all that behind me. Even though I was the top guy in college and come here and I’m the two, three or four guy, that stuff, I got to put it behind me and go out and work hard.

“I’m getting more comfortable each and every game,” Hankerson said. “One game, now two games, and this is the third game. I just need to realize, football is football, no matter where you’re playing.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.


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