It's not as if Joe Theismann walked over to him one day at practice, placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "Art Monk, you are now my primary receiver."
Nothing that dramatic has happened to explain the sudden emergence of Art Monk as a Redskin star. The actual reasons are much more mundane; injuries to the offensive line have healed, Theismann has had more time to throw and the quiet rookie receiver has stopped feeling as confused and tentative as a high school student trying to solve his first algebra problem.
"One day he was crawling and the next he was walking and the next he was running," Theismann said. "Now everyone better watch out when he starts sprinting."
Monk has not fully become the receiver the Redskins envisioned when they used their first opening-round pick in 11 years to draft him last May. He still is neither a game-breaker nor a threat whom opponents must double-team -- and wonder later why they dared cover him with one man.
But nor is he the tentative, sometimes bewildered rookie who had to stay late, practice after practice, repeating pass patterns like a struggling student writing, "I will do this better," 100 times on the blackboard after school.
Instead, the Art Monk of the last two weeks -- 12 receptions, 132 yards, one touchdown, a handful of nifty downfield blocks -- has established himself as a bona fide pro talent. He has the guts to run into the heart of the secondary and the ability to perform under pressure. But he is not polished enough to eliminate the most basic mistakes or confident enough to hold onto every pass that touches his gifted hands.
"On a scale from one to 10, I'm a six right now," said Monk, who considered himself a five in training camp.
Monk may never become a 10 among wide receivers, which could come as a shocking revelation to Redskin fans who were inundated with postdraft raves from the team brass. He was depicted as a reincarnation of the much-revered Charley Taylor, a superman whose mere presence in the Redskin uniform would have defensive backs searching the want ads.
If these images combined to produce an athlete blessed with the speed of Bob Hayes, the daring of Lynn Swann and the elusiveness of John Jefferson then Monk was handed an unfair burden.
He only now is starting to establish his own game personality. He is emerging as a player who seems destined to become the clutch, hard-nosed, Let-Art-Save-Us receiver that the club has been lacking since Jack Pardee was named coach.
Until the Redskins can come up with a running back who can relieve him of a portion of the pressure, Monk will be asked to make the kind of third-and-tough catches that he produced so well in the Cardinal game last week. And it was just that type of reception that convinced General Manager Bobby Beathard in the first place that Monk was too good to pass up in the draft for a much less gifted halfback.
His role with the Redskins never will be that of a sprint-and-go specialist who never gets his uniform dirty and who majors in dazzling end zone spikes. Monk is being paid handsomely, but he will earn his money the hard way for a reciever: in traffic, on the run, under tension and with his teammates hoping he doesn't mess up.
He'll score his share of touchdowns, but even those will come after tough work. "I'm fast," he said, "but not real quick off the line. I can't blow by people.I have to use my moves first to get free and then I don't think they can catch me. If I just try to outrun them it won't be enough."
Still, Monk already has had an impact on the Redskin offense. For two years, any patterns that called for receivers to cut through the middle were gathering dust in the Washington playbook. Pardee and Joe Walton, offensive coordinator, didn't think their ends had the size to hold up under the battering they'd endure by venturing into this no-man's land. So the routes weren't utilized, despite their importance to a balanced attack.
"Do you know how hard it is to keep a defense guessing when they know you are running a lot of 'outs' and other patterns, but hardly anything inside?" Walton said.
But Monk has the size (6 feet 2, 210 pounds) and the strength to make Walton smile again. The rookie can run down 10 yards and make a good move toward the middle of the field. And he can catch the ball even when defensive backs are trying to convince him otherwise.
In fact, Monk runs such patterns so well that sometimes it seems that's all he can do. Walton is like a man who suddenly rediscovered the telephone and knows how to call only one number.
So what if, as Pardee says, "It's really the easiest pass for a quarterback to throw, all he has to do is lead the receiver right"? No one has asked Monk's rib cage if the battering is worth it.
"It helps," said Monk, "that I'm a low-key person. I'm relaxed. When you go into a situation like that, you had better not be tense or worry about getting hit. Just run your route, stay open and catch the ball.I had a coach at Syracuse who used to say you might as well hold onto the ball in that situation so they will say 'great catch' instead of 'great hit.'"
Are those bone-crunching patterns actually enjoyable?
"No, but that's what happens when you are the biggest receiver on the team," he said with a laugh. "They aren't easy to do and no one especially likes them. I just don't think about it."
The Redskin offensive braintrust thinks about it often. So does Theismann.Washington somehow scored 30 or more points in five of its final six games last season without a bona fide star at wide receiver. Consider the increased potential of the team's attack this year, when Theismann can connect with a full-striding Monk in the center of the field, which allows this former halfback to put his running skills to best use.
"You look at the best teams in the league and they have receivers like Art," Pardee said. "He is so dangerous at all times. He breaks into the seam, gets one step on his man and watch out.
"With him, you don't have to grind things out as much. Instead of getting five or six yards on a catch, he can get 20 just because of his running ability. And once teams start to double-team him, it will open up other things for us too. If they have two men on him, our other receivers will have an easier time getting open."
There already have been tantalizing glimpses of Monk's potential, like an appetizer before the main course. He got loose down the sideline for a 48-yard catch against Philadelphia and he turned one of those cuts up the gut of the defense into a 45-yard scamper against Seattle. He was a step away from doing the same thing against the Cardinals before stumbling and settling for a 29-yard gain.
All of last year, the Washington wide receivers had just three catches over 40 yards. Toss in a 54-yarder by Ricky Thompson this time around and, thnks to Monk, they've already duplicated that number seven games into the schedule.
So where was Monk during the early part of the season, after he had pulled in five passes in the opener against Dallas, then added only seven more the next four weeks?
"I was learning. Things just weren't that natural to me. I was thinking a lot and that was slowing me down. Nothing really surprised me about the game. I knew it would be tough and I knew I would need time.
"I still don't feel complete. I don't feel like I'm doing my best right now, although I'm getting more natural. When games are over, I feel I did okay, but that I could do better. I shouldn't be dropping some of the balls I have, but at least I can go more full speed now. And having some passes thrown to me helps my confidence, too."
The Redskins set out from the start of camp to bring Monk along slowly. He didn't start at first, nor was he asked to execute Walton's complicated offense until he was ready. There was that extra work after practice, off-field film study and constant lecturing by Walton about precise routes and responsibilities. And there was help from cornerbacks like Lemar Parrish about how to handle tight defensive coverage, which was giving Monk special headaches.
"Art started slowly at first," Parrish said, "because he thought you could just run over people when they jammed you at the line. He was thinking a lot and not reacting. But that doesn't work at this level. You get tangled up and the quarterback runs out of time to throw.
"I talked to him about using his hands better to get away from the jam and to learn to duck under guys. Once you give a cornerback something to think about, then the advantage goes to the receiver.He's made a great improvement, but he's still learning.
"He's got the skills to be a great one. His speed is very deceptive but he can run by you with his stride. He's so strong and his hands are something else. He is tough and he can't be intimidated.
"And I'll tell you something else. Before, I could stop him watching his speed, but now I have to concentrate on his moves. Covering him is no sure thing anymore."
Adds Theismann; "People think you just go out and run for the ball. But not in our system. Art had to learn that on certain patterns, when he jams his foot to turn, I throw the ball. Or that on some routes, the ball would be on his outside shoulder and on others, on his inside shoulder. But geez, he's a worker. He's got superstar potential. We're just tapping the surface with his abilities right now."
And how did this potential superstar end practice yesterday? By hitting a blocking sled again and again under the watchful eye of Walton, even though he had wiped out two tacklers with one block on a Clarence Harmon touchdown run against St. Louis.
"He's kind of feeling his way with everything this year," Pardee said. "But once it all sinks in, watch out. Cornerbacks are going to wish he had never come into the league."