When he watches film of practices and preseason games, and then looks back at the 2010 and 2011 versions of himself, Washington Redskins receiver/return man Brandon Banks sees a very different player.
As an undrafted rookie out of Kansas State, Banks was a fast kid capable of reeling off big returns, but he knew very little about being a pro wide receiver. The 2011 version of Banks was fast, but not as quick – still hobbled by a balky left knee that needed surgery during the previous season – and he knew the pass routes of Washington’s offense. But lacked the knowledge of how to properly run them, or deal with certain coverages.
Now entering his third season, Banks says his knee at last has fully healed, giving him the ability to make cuts with ease. Meanwhile, his understanding of the receiver position is growing. Banks admits he remains far from a finished product, but he – and his coaches, by evidence of his inclusion on Washington’s 53-man roster – believe that he is on the right track.
As has been well-documented, Banks received a challenge from coach Mike Shanahan to prove that he could make the team as a pass-catcher, and not just a special teams player. After Banks rebounded from early struggles to close out the preseason strongly, Shanahan said the Redskins need to get the ball in Banks’ hands more this season.
“I’m just happy that he recognizes that I have the ability, and he’s got trust in me to put the ball in my hands,” Banks said on Monday. “I feel like that’s the kind of play-maker I am. I want the ball.”
Although only 5-foot-7 and 153 pounds, Banks never doubted his ability to play receiver in the NFL. But he admits that although he was listed as a receiver at Kansas State and as a junior in 2008 led the team in receiving yardage (67 catches for 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns), he wasn’t asked to run a wide range of pass routes. And then as a senior – once Josh Freeman was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Kansas State began running a lot of Wildcat formations featuring Banks.
“I was never a receiver til I got here,” Banks said before later explaining. “I was more of a wideout my junior year when Josh Freeman was there. My senior year, they had a different quarterback, and I ran a lot of bubble screens. I never ran a lot of real routes.”
When new Redskins receivers coach Ike Hilliard observed Banks this past offseason, he noticed Banks was lazy with his hands as he tried to get off the line, and other times, Banks was actually running his routes too fast. Together, they have begun correcting those problems.
“I really am getting a lot of detail. I give a lot of credit to Ike,” Banks said. “He taught me a lot of things with press coverages, how to slow down in my routes and stuff instead of trying to run everything full-speed and being out of place.”
Banks believes the increased knowledge has him poised for greater production as a receiver. Not having to worry about his knee (last year he would feel stabs of pain when trying to change direction) also should help, both on offense and special teams.
“What hurt me the most was I was still trying to run through that knee injury,” Banks said. “I kept trying to run on it when it was still hurt. I kept playing and playing and playing. It brought me down a lot. It was always on my mind, so I wasn’t fully into football. I was worried about getting healthy. I’m a totally different person now. I’m 100 percent healthy. I’ve talked to the coaches and I feel like I’m going to get the opportunities this year.”