By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 31, 2007
During his difficult times this season, Washington Redskins wide receiver Reche Caldwell remained focused. When he was left off the active roster for so many games, he simply practiced harder. And when the veteran got his chance, he helped the playoff-bound team.
After a slow start with Washington, Caldwell has emerged as a trusted member of a receiving corps, coaches and players said, that underwent a makeover throughout the season because of injuries. He continued to contribute in yesterday's 27-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in front of 90,910 at FedEx Field.
Washington's No. 3 wide receiver in the game, behind starters Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, Caldwell had only two receptions for 34 yards.
But Caldwell ran routes well, providing quarterback Todd Collins with another dependable target, showing why his role increased late in the season after the Redskins signed other wide receivers in an attempt to bolster the injury-weakened unit.
Ultimately, Washington's coaches determined Caldwell, signed after the first game, could provide what the team needed. It took a while, but Caldwell has found his place.
"When he got a chance to play, he made a ton of clutch catches for us," tight end Chris Cooley said. "Any time someone does that, when he shows he can do that, he becomes a guy who is going to get balls thrown his way. If he's the 'read,' I think Todd has all the confidence to throw him the ball."
The Redskins brought in Caldwell, who started for the New England Patriots last season, after their season-opening victory over the Miami Dolphins. Caldwell was the Patriots' leading receiver in 2006, catching 61 passes for 760 yards and four touchdowns, but New England considered him expendable after they acquired Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth in the offseason.
The Redskins seemed like a good fit for Caldwell, he said. Although he figured Moss and Randle El were entrenched as starters, Caldwell envisioned having a significant role with the team once he became familiar with the offense.
Instead, he often stood on the sideline while inactive, supporting his teammates and eager to contribute on the field. "I just kept working hard and just hoping my time would come," he said. "And whenever it came, I just wanted to be ready to do what they asked me to do. I think I did a good job of staying ready, so whenever that moment came I could go out there and perform at a high level."
Caldwell got an opportunity in Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He caught five passes for 43 yards in a 19-13 loss at Raymond James Stadium.
He displayed a knack for making clutch receptions on third down and working the sidelines well.
Moss has followed his teammate's career since Caldwell played for Florida. Moss was a star wide receiver at Miami, and wide receivers from the state of Florida know how to play, Moss said.
"I've been telling them [the coaches] since he's been here, 'I like him.' I've liked him since watching him in college," said Moss, who led the Redskins with eight catches for 115 yards against Dallas. "He's one of those guys he's going to go out there and run the routes. When the time comes, he's going to make the play."
In addition to Caldwell, the Redskins also signed veteran wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who was inactive yesterday, and several others this season in attempt to find the right combination. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was a high-priced bust and is on injured reserve after breaking his collarbone late in the season, which opened the door for Caldwell. The other wide receivers the Redskins brought in lack experience, and Caldwell is in his sixth season.
"He didn't contribute early on because he wasn't active," wide receiver James Thrash said. "He showed what he can do when he came in against Tampa and made some great catches, and he continues to play well. We knew he was a good player, it was just a matter of him getting an opportunity."
The configuration of the 45-man active roster worked against Caldwell early in the season, coaches said.
"Every time Reche has had an opportunity to do something, he has done well, but you can only suit up so many guys," said associate head coach-offense Al Saunders. "When your receivers don't play on special teams, it's tough to get 'em on the field all the time. But he's an outstanding receiver and he's doing a great job for us."
It seems the receiving corps is making strides at the right time. After struggling because of groin, heel and hamstring injuries, Moss re-emerged as a top playmaker during the streak. Randle El, who battled hamstring injuries, said he has recovered and Caldwell is well rested after working less than he would prefer during the season.
The Redskins face the Seattle Seahawks in a first-round playoff game Saturday at Qwest Field, and their wide receivers expect big things of themselves in the postseason.
"We would like to be playing at our best right now," Saunders said, "and that group is playing better than they've played all year."