Big-Play Maker

The Washington Post's Jason Reid discusses Marcus Washington's nagging hamstring injury and H.B. Blades's performance as his replacement with linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 3, 2008

The thought occurred to Jason Campbell long before the current buzz began. It came to him back in March, as the Washington Redskins took a new direction on another long road and no one quite knew what to expect.

When the quarterback began to work with the receivers in the privacy of a closed practice field at Redskins Park, Campbell quickly became encouraged about the return of a familiar sight. Santana Moss was doing things effortlessly again, Campbell observed, and that could be big for the Redskins.

"You could just see the way he was moving, the stuff he was doing out there, that he was feeling good again and he knew it," Campbell recalled. "It wasn't just one day or one thing, it was everything and every day. We didn't talk about it a lot because anything can happen in this game, but you knew everybody else would see it eventually."

The secret, it appears, is out. Slowed by numerous injuries the previous two seasons, Moss is physically sound again and has returned to the form that enabled him to set a franchise receiving record in the 2005 season. He has re-emerged among the league's top deep threats in his eighth season in the league, and, more importantly for the Redskins, has become the go-to receiver, playing a key role in Campbell's impressive performance this season.

The Campbell-Moss tandem has contributed significantly to the fast start of Coach Jim Zorn, Washington's play-caller, who saw the spring in Moss's step and made him a big part of his new spread-offense scheme. Moss, 29, took significant time off in the offseason, for a change, in an attempt to let his body heal, and the experiment was a success, coaches and players said. The Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) on Sunday host the Redskins (3-1), and Washington plans to lean on Moss again.

"There really aren't any secrets in this league, and if there are secrets they don't stay secret for long," offensive coordinator Sherman Smith said. "Everybody in this league knows what type of player Santana is, but he wasn't healthy the last couple of years, so maybe some guys didn't look at him the same way. But Santana has his legs back now, he's healthy, and I think that's pretty clear."

Moss leads the Redskins with 27 catches for 421 yards (a 15.6-yard average) and three touchdowns. Among NFL receivers, Moss is tied for second in receptions and is second in yards. Again displaying the ability to make big plays, Moss is tied for second in the league with six receptions of at least 20 yards and tied for third with two of 40 yards or more. Only two receivers have more first-down catches than Moss's 18, and he has equaled the number of 100-yard games (two) and touchdowns (three) he had in 14 games last season.

"When you're fresh, you're fresh," No. 2 wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "And when you're feeling good, you're feeling good."

Moss's increased production has coincided with the Redskins' three-game winning streak. Although he had a touchdown reception among five catches in the season-opening loss to the New York Giants, Moss finished with only 37 yards. Campbell struggled in his first regular season game in Zorn's version of the West Coast offense.

In the days between that loss and the Redskins' Week 2 home opener against the New Orleans Saints, Moss reassured Campbell that "everything would work out, just to trust in the guys I have around me, 'cause we're all in this together," Campbell said. "He just told me that it's not on all me, we're learning everything as a team, and we're going to win as a team."

Moss's words were well timed, as Campbell had come under scrutiny after the opener. Then Moss provided more support on the field for Campbell, catching seven passes -- including the go-ahead 67-yard touchdown pass on a deep ball from Campbell late in the fourth quarter -- for 164 yards.

"He's up there in the league standings" of the best wide receivers, Zorn said. "When I first started, I didn't know, to be honest with you."

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