PHILADELPHIA — Here’s the best way to describe Terrelle Pryor Sr.’s current status in the Washington Redskins’ offense: When Kirk Cousins was asked specifically about his outside receivers following Washington’s limp loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, the quarterback mentioned six names, including two tight ends and a running back. Pryor’s name didn’t come up.
And here’s the best way Pryor summarized his own status, when asked whether his first-half benching against the Eagles might be repeated Sunday against Dallas.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I mean, that’s a good question. I don’t know.”
To the many issues on Coach Jay Gruden’s agenda — a battered offensive line whose duct tape is now held together with duct tape, a defense that’s given up 87 points over three games, a team-wide tendency to close games with a whimper — add this one: The head coach just sidelined his presumed top wideout on national television. He did so, Gruden said, to provide more chances to second-year man Josh Doctson, who responded by setting a career high in receptions. With three.
“We drafted Josh to be the number one guy,” Gruden said after the game, and he explained further Tuesday. Both Pryor and Doctson specialize at the “X” receiver spot. With Doctson healthy, coaches wanted to see how he’d react to a start. As for the future? “We’ll see how it goes.”
“Outside linebackers, they’re subbing; defensive linemen, they’re subbing all the time,” Gruden said. “So it’s just important for us to try to play the best players, the guys that give us the best chance to win. It’s not like we’re losing faith in anybody. We have faith in all our receivers.”
But the fact is, Washington’s first-half rotation skipped right over Pryor, a man who caught 77 passes last season and then arrived in Washington suggesting he had greater things in store. Surely, he must have been a bit surprised to find himself on the field for just one play in the entire first quarter of this crucial divisional showdown?
“First quarter? First half,” Pryor noted. “I didn’t play at all. You know, that’s Coach’s call.”
Pryor, to be fair, said the right things about this startling rebuke. That he was rooting for his teammates. That he trusts his coaches. (“I believe in [Gruden], I believe in what he represents as a coach,” Pryor said.) That there’s a lot of season left, and that “there’s a lot of guys around the league that are starting fresh with new quarterbacks that aren’t killing the game right now, either.”
Still, this had to sting for a player who arrived on a one-year prove-it deal, bubbling over with self-confidence. (“I walk it and talk it; I breathe it,” he said in the spring.) Despite a slow start — marked by drops and miscommunications — he entered the week having played more offensive snaps than any Redskins running back or receiver, more than 86 percent of them before Monday night. The public message had remained upbeat, even if the numbers were’t there.
Now? Those words might remain, but you have to wonder whether the team’s flashiest free agent signing will turn into not just a disappointment, but a non-entity.
The former 1,000-yard receiver, signed to help replace Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, finished Monday with 30 snaps — less than half of what he had gotten the week before. He’s totaled 37 receiving yards over the past two weeks. His 223 receiving yards rank 89th in the league. When he was on the field in the second half Monday, he dropped two more balls. And when he was asked about the momentum switch in the second quarter, Pryor answered as honestly as he could.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was on the sideline really, just cheering my teammates on and just trying to be the best teammate I could be on the sideline. Whatever I could do on the sideline.”
That’s a lot of sideline talk — is anyone else thinking about Adam Archuleta? — and it again points to the front office’s bold offseason gambit: that both Jackson’s game-breaking speed and Garcon’s third-down reliability could be replaced, in part by a castoff from Cleveland. Just think back to last year’s late-season win in Philadelphia, when Jackson made an otherworldly adjustment to a deep ball for an 80-yard touchdown catch, and Garcon snatched a fourth-quarter fourth-down conversion leading to the game-winning score.
Those qualities are notably absent. On Monday night, the vertical threat consisted almost entirely of 33-year old tight end Vernon Davis running down the seam. And crucial third-down pass attempts — to Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant — came up short or fell incomplete.
“We can’t have everybody out there all the time; you can only have 11 out there,” Gruden said. “And really, some of our best offensive stuff comes out of two-tight-end sets and one back [or] three-tight-end sets and one back. … So it’s going to be hard to get everybody the ball and get everybody happy. But these guys are all on the team. And when they’re asked to play, they’ll play. And if not, they’ll wait their turn.”
His quarterback said the same, explaining a plan to rotate in Pryor “maybe every third series or so,” but to focus on Doctson. “And when you add Vernon and Jordan and Chris Thompson, it doesn’t leave a lot of space for four or five receivers,” Cousins went on. “So you pick two or three and you go with them. And that tonight was Jamison and Josh Doctson and Ryan Grant, and I thought those three did a good job, and expect them to continue to be there.”
That would leave Pryor scrambling for leftovers. The Redskins have bigger concerns right now than a free agent misstep or a receiver’s ego. The season could be done-in by the offensive line carnage, combined with an upcoming four-game death march against four NFC teams with at least .500 records. Pryor promised not to turn diva, saying “you’re not going to see any animosity with me, you’re not going to see me angry.”
Still, this bears watching, a would-be offensive focus turned first-half cheerleader, while the departed Garcon laughs at Washington’s receivers on Twitter and Gruden talks about “trying to get everybody happy.” Because happiness, like a starting job, isn’t guaranteed to last.
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