Third-year pro Josh Doctson, left, is liking how quarterback Alex Smith communicates with receivers and is giving him chances to make plays. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Sports Columnist

On the first day of Redskins training camp last week, Josh Doctson was running straight ahead and still one stride away from breaking inside when quarterback Alex Smith released the pass into a void. Doctson appeared in the empty space to grab the ball for a first down.

That play never happened last year.

Kirk Cousins didn’t always trust Doctson — or most receivers — enough to throw them open. Cousins, who is in Vikings training camp now, was reluctant to risk interceptions, especially while he was playing for a new contract. Anything that wasn’t a high-percentage throw was rarely tried.

In his first few practices in Richmond, Smith has often given his receivers a chance to make plays. And when there have been breakdowns, he’s sought them out after drills to discuss any miscommunication. That makes a big difference, Doctson said.

“I think [Smith will] come to me or he’ll come to the other receivers and he’ll talk about what he saw and what he liked about that,” Doctson said. “I think that’s a little different for me and I like it.”

So far, Smith has showed amazing chemistry with his new receivers. He was loving Paul Richardson in the red zone during Sunday’s practice. He often found former 49ers teammate Vernon Davis 20 yards downfield, and Jamison Crowder has become a favorite target for short completions.

But if this offense is going to reach its potential, Doctson must deliver a breakthrough season. The 2016 first-round pick was hobbled by injuries his rookie year. While he rebounded and played in all 16 games last season, Doctson made just 35 receptions.

Where was the leaping playmaker from Texas Christian whose acrobatic receptions over defenders were all over YouTube? Well, Doctson turned back the clock last week, when Smith threw a rainbow to him in the corner of the end zone that even coach Jay Gruden joked was “lucky.”

“We just haven’t gotten many opportunities to [Doctson] for whatever reason, you know,” Gruden said, “so it’s not totally his fault that he hasn’t been as productive as people anticipate.”

Gruden seems determined to make Doctson the team’s top receiver. But Gruden said the proof won’t simply come through numbers.

“I think people are looking for the stats to fly of the charts,” Gruden said. “But you know around here, the way we spread the ball around … it’s going to be hard for one guy to have a fantasy football superstar year. I think in the red zone is where he’s is going to be most dangerous … and some tight window throws on third down.”

Early on in camp, Doctson is validating that trust and finding success with his new quarterback.

Read more from Rick Snider:

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