The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

There’s a reason Redskins’ Josh Doctson won’t talk about his heel pain

Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson gets attention from a trainer. (Steve Helber/AP)

RICHMOND — The topic was Josh Doctson, the Washington Redskins’ gifted wide receiver with boundless talent that has yet to translate into statistical brilliance. More specifically, the topic was Josh Doctson’s feet and the pain within them that may have kept him from statistical brilliance. Redskins wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard shook his head.

“Nobody will ever know, but it’s been tough for the kid,” Hilliard said. “He’s played through a lot of stuff, and he’s not going to say a word. He’s going to do the best that he can.”

Hilliard has a mantra he shares with Doctson, who is the Redskins’ most controversial wideout: Don’t talk about the hurting.

“If you’re out there and you’re playing, you’re expected to produce,” Hilliard said.

Welcome to the NFC East, the NFL’s new black-and-blue division

So in the three-plus years since Washington made him a first-round pick, Doctson has said little. Even as Achilles’ injuries limited him to two games his rookie season and kept him to 81 catches and eight touchdowns in those three years, he has not spoken much about his pain. Fans wonder whether he will ever become the lead wide receiver the team expected after the 2016 draft. Younger players are challenging for his job. The Redskins didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, putting great pressure on this coming season because he is going to be a free agent when it is over.

Still, Doctson shrugs when asked what is going on inside his foot. The most he will say is that his heel hurts but the pain is manageable.

“You try to ask people to sympathize with us, but in reality it’s hard to do because nobody’s experienced it,” Doctson said. “You can’t understand it. But we’re all human; we’re not superheroes. We might look like it, but everybody hurts. We bleed like everybody else bleeds, so everybody’s going through something, dealing with something. You just got to like understand it: We’re all human, man; we all feel pain.”

He wears a shoe with special padding on the back that is supposed to provide extra protection if he gets kicked on the field. It’s nowhere near as obvious as the protrusion that was built onto the back of his shoe last year when the heel pain flared up before the season and left his start to the year in limbo, though he eventually played in all but one game and had a career-high 44 catches.

He gets kicked often, he said. He plays football, after all, you are going to get kicked a lot playing football. And when you get kicked, it will hurt. And for Doctson, getting kicked in the Achilles’ hurts a lot.

Hilliard knows Doctson’s pain because he has gone though it himself. He was a star wide receiver for the New York Giants in the late 1990s, once catching 72 passes for almost 1,000 yards. He was durable and dependable until the year after New York went to the Super Bowl in 2001 and he started to get pain in his foot. It wasn’t his Achilles', but his foot ached. It ached a lot.

“A bone-on-bone issue,” Hilliard called his injury.

“I limped through the last eight years of my career,” he said.

“Think about the guys who are banged up now, the Jordan Reeds and guys like that,” he later added. “Those issues are because as a pass catching group we are running all the time. All the cutting and the change of direction and all that stuff, that plays a huge part of what we do, so it changes a huge part of our craft and how we go about it.”

As for Doctson, Hilliard keeps shaking his head and repeating the same line: “No one will know.”

As in, no one will know just how much Doctson’s foot is hurting.

When asked about Doctson’s performance, he said he thinks Doctson “has always been a talented dude” and cautions people to remember that a lot goes into making a catch. A lot of times, the Redskins haven’t been able to get the ball to Doctson as much as they would want, a fact that was complicated last year when the team went through four quarterbacks, simplifying the offense in the year’s final weeks.

Also, Hilliard is quick to mention, Washington’s offense is not built on highlighting a single receiver. No one will have 140 targets in a season the way the league’s top-rated wide receivers do. Doctson has had 78 targets in each of the past two years. Reed is the Redskins’ most talented pass catcher, he said; when Reed is healthy, everyone else’s production will go down.

“Everyone else gets what they can,” he said.

When he thinks about the chances Doctson gets, he sighs.

“The poor kid, he can sometimes get a target that’s thrown out of bounds and people look at the stat sheet and, ‘Oh, he’s got seven targets [and] three catches; he sucks,’ ” Hilliard said. “It’s not necessarily true. It’s tough.”

In the spring, the Redskins were optimistic about Doctson. He looked powerful and fast during minicamp. Everybody praised him. But it’s hard to know where he stands in the days before the team’s first preseason game. His game isn’t built on separation like some receivers. He has to fight to make catches. There are other wideouts, such as Terry McLaurin, a third-round pick from Ohio State who has been getting separation from defensive backs. There are going to be fights for the starting jobs this summer.

Doctson just nods and says he feels fine.

More Redskins coverage:

Meet Donald Parham, the Redskins’ undrafted rookie tight end with a 7-foot wingspan

Redskins have faced a business staff exodus since the firing of Brian Lafemina

Donald Penn, Trent Williams’ friend, says he joined Redskins to play left tackle

Jonathan Allen says he cares more about winning than being captain: ‘I’m tired of losing’