-- Steve Spurrier's favorite part of the NFL scouting combine took place Sunday, when the Washington Redskins coach watched prospects pitching and catching. In agility drills, wide receivers sprinted across the field, stopping every 10 yards to snag throws from quarterbacks.
Although Spurrier has been focused on every aspect of his team -- even attending workouts for punters -- the Fun 'n' Gun architect was most comfortable trying to fill perhaps the Redskins' greatest need: a wide receiver to stretch the field, and bolster the offense.
Choices via free agency are limited this year, but the April 26-27 draft has a strong group of wideouts, including a player with whom the former Florida coach is extremely familiar: Taylor Jacobs of the Gators.
A 6-foot, 195-pound speedster, Jacobs is considered one of the top three receivers in the draft, and may be available when the Redskins make the 13th pick in the first round. But because Spurrier had little luck with former Gators during his first season as an NFL coach, he has reservations about them now.
"We're certainly not against guys that went to Florida," said Spurrier, who recruited Jacobs from a Tallahassee high school in 1999. "But probably because a lot of guys didn't pan out the way we had hoped, we're not going to be as quick to go after some of my former guys."
Last year, Spurrier signed four of those "former guys" at wideout: Reidel Anthony, Chris Doering, Jacquez Green and Willie Jackson. All but Doering, a restricted free agent after catching 18 passes, have been cut.
"To continue to take a lot of Florida guys, you have to be pretty audacious," said Steve Spurrier Jr., the Redskins' wide receivers coach. "So if you're going to make a mistake on a guy, it better be a guy who's not from Florida -- again. So yeah, there's a little hesitation there to continue finding Gators."
Michigan State's Charles Taylor and Miami's Andre Johnson will likely be the first wideouts selected -- among the top eight players -- according to several scouts. But Jacobs cemented his status as an elite wide receiver by flourishing at the Senior Bowl before suffering a deep thigh bruise. Jacobs runs precise routes, a quality Spurrier loves, and has good hands and a strong work ethic.
Like most top prospects, Jacobs didn't participate in the 40-yard dash. But Jacobs is fast enough to have qualified for the 200-meter race at the 2002 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. In his senior season, Jacobs caught 71 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns.
Although Spurrier calls Jacobs "a big-time wide receiver," he is well aware that other Gators receivers have struggled in the NFL after producing gaudy college numbers. But one NFC scout considers Jacobs the best Gators wide receiver in recent memory, and predicts a successful NFL career, particularly as a No. 2 receiver. Still, Spurrier will defer to his scouts. And Redskins officials say an ex-Gator won't color the selection in either direction.
"As long as the guy can help us win," said Vinny Cerrato, vice president of player personnel, "that's all that matters."
Last season, Redskins wide receiver Rod Gardner quietly had a breakthrough season with a career-high 1,006 yards on 71 catches. Gardner -- who caught eight touchdown passes -- was the Redskins' only deep threat. But at 6-2 and 220 pounds, Gardner is more bruiser than speedster. And the Redskins believe that the offense, and Gardner, need a wideout who can stretch the field, if merely to open lanes for midrange passes.
"If you get a guy who is elusive, who can really fly down the field, two or three defensive backs will have to chase him," said Spurrier Jr. "so that sets the offense up a lot."
Without a speedy wideout, the Redskins struggled to score, ranking 24th among 32 NFL teams, and 21st in passing yardage. If Washington chooses a defensive lineman in the first round, speedy wide receivers, such as Florida State's Anquan Boldin and Talman Gardner, Georgia's Terrance Edwards, and Tennessee's Kelley Washington should be available in the second round.
"There are a lot of good ones out there," Spurrier Sr. said, "We'll see how that plays out."
An unknown quantity is Redskins wide receiver Cliff Russell, who was selected in the third round in 2002. Russell was the Redskins' fastest player before suffering a season-ending knee injury the first day of camp. According to Redskins officials, Russell -- who had 4.27 speed in the 40-yard dash -- is only weeks away from returning to full health.
"It's like having an extra draft pick," said Cerrato, whose team has an extra pick in the final round. "He's a guy that people forget about who can help us if he comes back strong."
The injury prevented the club from determining whether Russell can play on the NFL level, so Washington is likely to lean toward a wide receiver in the first round because of the limits of free agency. The Redskins had been interested in Peerless Price, the Buffalo Bills wideout who caught 94 passes for 1,252 yards last season. But the Bills tagged Price as their franchise player, restricting his movement. (Now, acquiring Price means giving up two first-round draft choices.) The Redskins appear to have no interest in David Boston, the Arizona Cardinals free agent, who has a similar style to Gardner's.
If the Redskins don't acquire a speedy receiver in the draft, one of their best chances may be with Ike Hilliard of the New York Giants.
Of course, Hilliard's college glory days were with Spurrier -- at Florida.