Redskins Fishing for Small Change
Monday, August 15, 2005
Antonio Brown trudged off the field at Redskins Park after a recent practice, disappearing behind the offensive linemen who sauntered a few yards ahead of him. When Brown stopped to sign autographs for fans, many in the crowd towered over him.
At 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds, Brown often has been the shortest player on his team, whether it was at Miami's Central High, West Virginia University, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League or the Buffalo Bills.
But there's one group that Brown has no problem looking squarely in the eye -- some of his fellow Redskins wide receivers. Starters Santana Moss and David Patten are each generously listed at 5-10 and approximately 190 pounds.
"It's funny because every place I went, in high school, college, my first year at Buffalo, I was the little guy. Now, I'm normal ," said Brown, who led the Redskins' wideouts with three catches for 37 yards in a 28-10 preseason loss Saturday to Carolina. "We have one big guy" -- Darnerien McCants is 6-3, 214 pounds. "So it's a lot of little guys, and that helps us a lot, because it's a great deal of confidence to have that many.
"I'm pretty sure Coach [Joe Gibbs] sees something that he wants, to have that many 5-10-and-under guys."
Gibbs hopes the smallish, speedy receivers will supply something the offense lacked last season: big plays. That wasn't much in evidence in the loss to the Panthers with Moss, McCants and Patten combining to catch four passes for 36 yards. Gibbs envisions receivers stretching the field, enabling his ball-control system to thrive behind tailback Clinton Portis with occasional play-action passes. "You've got these three midgets who can fly," Portis said, "so it's going to open a lot of stuff up."
During Gibbs's first head coaching tenure (1981-1992), he won three Super Bowls in four appearances with help from smaller receivers, including the "Smurfs" in the early '80s and the "Posse" in the late '80s.
"Receivers come in all sizes and packages," Gibbs said. "As receivers, I've had Art Monk [at 6-3]; he's a big guy. I had Gary Clark; he's a small guy. It was terrific.
"I've had Pro Bowlers in all categories there. And I think it depends on how good the guy is. If he's explosive and can make big plays for us, I've found that size is negated."
Last season, with starters Rod Gardner (6-2, 213) and Laveranues Coles (5-11, 193), Gibbs's offense finished ranked 30th among 32 teams, averaging only 15 points per game. Receivers caught only four passes of 40 yards or longer, averaged 11.4 yards per catch and scored only six touchdowns.
Instead of focusing on size, Gibbs chose to pursue players with the ability to stretch the field. Last season with the New York Jets, Moss -- acquired for Coles -- caught a team-high five touchdowns and averaged 18.6 yards per catch, second-best in the NFL. Patten -- who won three Super Bowl rings in four years with the New England Patriots -- nipped at Moss's heels with an 18.2-yard average and scored seven touchdowns, a career high and tied for the team lead.
Moss's career average of 16 yards per catch -- plus one touchdown every 7.9 receptions -- is among the best in the NFL. Patten, a ninth-year veteran, has a career average of 14.9 yards per catch. Still, their size bucks a trend in the league.