As training camp approaches, Mike Jones takes one final look at a player who finds himself competing for key roles this season, and is in a position battle this preseason.
Two offseasons ago, the Redskins made moves that knocked Santana Moss down from the No. 1 receiving target to third. Now after this past offseason, another offseason of action at wide receiver, Moss’s role looks as if it could diminish even more. At this training camp, he will have to fight just to remain on the roster.
After seven seasons as Washington’s go-to guy, Moss moved to the slot receiver role when Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan joined the team in 2012. Moss continued to contribute, ranking third in receiving that season, and even last year – despite some ups and downs – he ranked a distant second among wide receivers because of struggles by the now-departed Morgan.
The 35-year-old’s contract expired this past offseason, but Washington re-signed him to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal on the same day they inked new slot receiver Andre Roberts, but three weeks before they unexpectedly added ex-Philadelphia Eagle DeSean Jackson.
The top three wide receiver jobs appear to belong to Pierre Garcon, Jackson and Roberts, leaving Moss with an undefined role.
Moss this training camp will battle with third-year pro Aldrick Robinson, second-year receiver Nick Williams and rookie newcomers Ryan Grant, Cody Hoffman, Rashad Ross, Jerry Rice Jr., Rashad Lawrence and Lee Doss for two to three roster spots. Once Leonard Hankerson receives clearance in his rehabilitation from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, he too will join the competition.
But the 35-year-old Moss remains unfazed by the situation.
“I’ve never not had to go work for my job,” Moss said earlier this spring. “So at the end of the day, there’s always competition. Like you say, you all will rate where somebody’s at. I never did that. I went out here and worked. That’s why I’m able to be here today is because I’ve always showed instead of talked about it. So I’m gonna continue to do that. I’m gonna go out here and practice hard and put everything on tape and at the end of the day, you can judge on the tape.”
During offseason practices, Moss’s motivation and determination were evident. His experience and versatility also shined through. He lined up at all three receiver positions at various points, and played as fast and effectively as ever. He didn’t look like a player approaching the sunset of his career.
“Santana, he’s had an excellent offseason program, man,” coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s fun to be around, he’s fun to watch, he knows every position, he’s making big plays out there. He looks like a young kid, he’s got energy, he’s a great leader. If he drops a pass, he holds himself accountable. If the quarterback misses him, he’s like, ‘Let’s get onto the next one, man.’ ”
“He’s a great guy to have for these young guys to learn from at the receiver position, and every position for that matter,” Gruden said following an offseason practice. “He’s working out hard. He’s the first one out there today again, I like having guys like that, veteran guys who are great examples for rookies and also can help you win in big games. You know the game’s not too big for them because they’ve been there and done that. He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.”
Garcon and Jackson will hold the two most prominent pass-catching roles, with coaches also expecting a lot from Roberts. Tight end Jordan Reed will also be heavily involved, yet Moss does offer something unique.
In his 13 seasons in the NFL, he has seen and experienced it all, which enables him to fill any role. That also allows him to serve as a leader and teacher on a young unit. But with Garcon and Jackson well-established in the league, and former long-time receiver Ike Hilliard as the position coach, it remains to be seen what kind of a value Washington places on Moss’s intangibles.
Aldrick Robinson’s history of inconsistent play and a lack of versatility, and Hankerson’s history of injury and inconsistencies would seem to help Moss’s chances because from a depth standpoint, beyond Garcon, Jackson and Roberts, Washington has no proven backups. But strong play this summer from some of the new young faces could prompt coaches to worry less about experience and focus more on the future.
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