For the first time this season, the Redskins started three rookies on offense as Coach Mike Shanahan gave the nod to running back Roy Helu, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and left guard Maurice Hurt.
Helu, who previously had been used to spell the starting running back, recorded 105 receiving yards on 14 catches (a franchise record) and rushed for 41 yards on 10 carries. Meanwhile, Hankerson – appearing in only his third game – recorded a career-high four catches for 34 yards, including a two-point conversion late in the game.
Hurt was a part of an offensive line that had an improved outing, yielding only one sack a week after giving up 10 to the Buffalo Bills. (A fourth rookie starter, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who hasn't missed a defensive snap all season, also had a strong game, recording six tackles and a sack).
When asked about the rookies, Shanahan said, “Hankerson has been practicing pretty good through the last few weeks. We wanted him to get the opportunity. I think he’s a difference maker. He has the opportunity to be an elite receiver in this league. You can see in practice, his ability to beat bump coverages, one-on-one. I think it’ll benefit us down the road.
“Helu, he’s got the speed to make some big plays,” the coach continued. “We’re going to have Ryan [Torain] kind of substitute him when he gets tired. You can see he’s a pretty good all-around back. He made some plays. I know he’d like to have that fumble back. Hurt, any time you lose a couple of players, you have to find out what the best combination. With Trent Williams coming back, we thought Will [Montgomery] would be much better back at center. … Between [Hurt] and Sean [Locklear] during the week, we thought Maurice did a good enough job at the position.”
For Hankerson, the game marked steady progression from when he made his season debut three weeks ago. In that game at Carolina, he ran a bad pass route and that led to an interception. Last week he had one catch for 23 yards, and this week he caught all but one pass that came his way.
“That’s what it’s got to be,” Hankerson said of his progress. “You can’t just stay the same. Each and every day, you have to get better. That’s what it takes. Me going in practice, working hard, listening to the coaches, staying in the play book, getting better every day.”
Said Hurt, “I haven’t watched film yet, so I can’t really say. But I felt pretty good out there and felt like the coaches prepared me and my teammates helped me. Obviously we didn’t get as good a performance as we wanted, but I felt pretty good out there.”