By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 5, 2006
If there was ever a time ego might be tempted to take on a larger role in the brain of Santana Moss, it would be now, when the Washington Redskins wideout is coming off the best receiving season of any player in the history of the franchise, and for the first time in his career is the primary receiving threat in his team's offense.
Moss could argue that his star has arrived, and bathe in the trappings of NFL stardom -- a shinier car, increased demands for the football, the special rules that differentiate the premier player from the average. All of it is designed to send the message that in professional sports, success is measured not just in statistics but also by disposable income and special dispensation.
But for the first six days of training camp, Moss has walked off the practice field alone and unassuming. Quarterback Mark Brunell and running back Clinton Portis conduct news conferences on designated days, and they are curbed and monitored by the team's public relations staff. Moss, conversely, is as accessible as any player in camp.
He soared in 2005, his fifth year in the NFL, but did not buy himself anything special to commemorate the spectacular season.
"I can't chill. I never chill. I hit weights to make sure I'm in shape enough to be the guy I want to be," Moss, 27, said. "That's something I do every year. Other than that, I took the family on vacation. I went to the beach, but didn't sit on the beach. I'm not the kind of guy who goes and plays in the sand."
If he acknowledges the statistical facts of 2005 -- 84 catches, 1,483 receiving yards, five 100-yard receiving games, 645 more receiving yards than in his final year with the New York Jets and nearly twice as many receptions as in 2004 -- Moss does so believing he did not accomplish anything special last season.
"Every now and again, you say, 'job well done.' But you also say, 'why look at it as something you're surprised by?' " he said. "I feel that the guy that I am, I was always going to be that guy, given the opportunity.
"What people don't realize is, I don't see it as a breakout year. Whatever you get, you should be able to give back in production. If you give me a certain amount of catches, I'm supposed to give you back a certain amount of yards. So when I got that amount of catches in New York, I gave you those kinds of yards. So when you look at it, I've been this kind of player my whole career."
Instead of doing a star turn, Moss is all business. He is wrestling with the weaker aspects of his game that weren't quite so apparent to the untrained or casual observer during a year he totaled career bests in receptions, yards and games started.
"There were some things that he did that were outstanding, and some things that he'd like and I'd like to improve on," said wide receivers coach Stan Hixon. "When you watch the film, and with the motivation of having this new offense, he just sees the possibility of having an even better year. He's not a big ego guy. I've been around some players that are, but that made him work harder to get open."
Moss has spent the early days of training camp with Hixon working on fighting off defenders who crowd him at the line of scrimmage, and on improving his double moves. Moss and Hixon believe he can improve the technical side of his route running, which, according to Al Saunders, the team's new associate head coach-offense, already was precise.
"He has no limitation. Absolutely none," Saunders said. "The word I use for him is special. I don't think there's anything he can't do as a wide receiver. There are a lot of guys who are gifted in this league: They can catch the ball, they can run fast, they're tough guys, but the thing that separates Santana is that he can take what he learns in the classroom and come on the field and do it exactly right. He pays so much attention. He doesn't waste a snap in practice and he's always focused."
Moss wants to improve as a slot receiver, a role in which he enjoyed great success at the University of Miami but which he seldom played during his four seasons with the Jets.
"That's something that I did that got me here. When I was at UM, I was averaging six touchdowns apiece from the inside. When I was in New York, they kept me away from it for four years," Moss said. "I don't knock it. It was their offense. When I did end up in the slot, if it just so happened that someone lined up outside of me and I ended up in the middle, I was productive. So when I came over here and was allowed to do it, I got greedy. I wanted to keep attacking it, and make sure I could improve more."
Moss has the respect of his defensive teammates. On one occasion during practice, Moss lined up against cornerback Shawn Springs, a fellow Pro Bowl player. Moss feigned to the outside before slicing hard to the inside, executing a perfect deep slant move. Springs bit on Moss's fake, tried to recover when Moss broke to the inside but lost his footing before spiraling to the ground. Moss caught the pass and breezed into the end zone.
"Imagine guarding the smallest, fastest, quickest dude playing football. That's why he's a Pro Bowler. He can do it all. He can catch short, catch long. He's very smooth in his breaks. He's very smooth of out his cuts," said cornerback Ade Jimoh. "Everything he does is really at the top of his game. When you're working with him, you have to really make sure you focus. Any little mistake, that's a catch for him, and even longer. Of course he makes you better, because he's one of the best in the game."
Staff writer Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.