After observing the way that third-year pro Brandon Banks responded to the challenge issued to him at the start of training camp, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said that the team must find ways to get the speedy player the ball more this season.
Banks for his first two NFL seasons was used primarily on special teams. During that time he has averaged 24.1 yards per kick return while taking one back for a touchdown and 10.2 yards on punt returns. (Banks returned punts for touchdowns in each of the two previous preseasons.) Last season he completed a 49-yard pass to Santana Moss for a touchdown.
But at the start of camp, Shanahan said the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Kansas State product would have to prove he could help the team as a wide receiver because of the improved depth at that position and because multiple wideouts were just as capable of returning kicks and punts in addition to making plays on offense.
After a rocky start to the preseason, recording only two catches on nine targets in the opener at Buffalo, Banks rebounded to score a touchdown on a 91-yard punt return against Indianapolis. Then on Wednesday, against Tampa Bay, he recorded a reception on a 47-yard bomb from Kirk Cousins, and then gained 43 yards on a reverse.
For the preseason, Banks averaged 25.5 yards on kick returns and 23.0 on punts
He did have only three catches on 12 targets in four preseason outings. But Shanahan said that in deciding how to form the 53-man roster, he and the Redskins’ other decision makers deemed Banks too valuable to part with.
“He’s done a good job throughout training camp,” Shanahan said. “He proved that he can play at the wide receiver position. And the one thing about Brandon, he can make plays. Like we ran him around on a reverse and not many people can make a corner miss like that and get a 40-something yard gain. And if you have to put him in the backfield, you can run him as a tailback because he has such great quickness. He’s a guy that’s a playmaker, and he’s proved that since he’s been here. We’re going to find ways to get him the football.”
It was evident that Banks’s lack of size limits his effectiveness on certain pass routes, but Shanahan plans on a variety of creative ways to position Banks to make plays. Against Tampa Bay he even lined up at tailback a couple of times.
Shanahan said that although he issued the challenge of making the team as a receiver, ultimately the only position that needs to be assigned to Banks is that of “playmaker.”
“Now remember, as a punt returner or a kickoff returner, you don’t have to punt to a returner,” Shanahan said. “With these kicks from the 35-yard line, they don’t get a whole lot of reps. So if a guy’s going to make your football team, he’s going to make your football team because he’s a playmaker. And like I said, if he’s a wide receiver [and] if he’s catching a bubble [screen] or a reverse, he’s got a chance to make plays. So he made our football team because he’s a football player, and I think he can add to winning games for us in the future.”