After 11 seasons of NFL service, Santana Moss continues to remake himself. The latest version of the Washington Redskins wide receiver comes to training camp considerably lighter and more nimble, bent on recovering from his least productive season as a starter.
At 33, Moss is the elder statesman among Washington’s wide receivers and second in tenure to Chris Cooley on the offense. Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan, the young bucks contending with Moss for playing time, have fewer years in the league combined (nine) than Moss.
Linebacker London Fletcher is the only Redskin on offense or defense with more years of professional duty than Moss.Starting quarterback Robert Griffin III was in grade school when Moss was participating in his first NFL training camp with the New York Jets.
“That’s where winning comes from,” Hankerson, 23, said of Moss’s lengthy NFL tenure. “Having a guy like that, getting information from him, getting his train of thought about everything. It’s a good thing to have him on this team and have him here to help us.”
Moss fancies himself as much more than just a teacher. He’s here to rejuvenate a career that, along with the team, stalled last season. His 584 receiving yards were his fewest since he became a full-time starter at wide receiver in 2003. That sharp decline in production compelled Moss to pay more attention to his physical fitness.
His offseason workouts became more aggressive and more frequent, and Moss altered his diet to expedite the slimming process. The sleeker Moss has been a bundle of activity in training camp, where he has lined up on the outside and in his customary position in the slot.
“Everybody’s got a lot of confidence in Santana because he’s been a playmaker throughout his career,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “But I think Santana knew that he had to lose a little weight to come back and play at a certain level to help the team win, and that’s what did. He came in, dropped about 15 pounds, and he looks like a different guy out there.”
Now Moss finds himself square in the middle of a competition to start after the Redskins signed Garcon and Morgan as free agents. Garcon agreed to a five-year deal reportedly worth $42.5 million. Morgan, who played high school football at H.D. Woodson and attended Virginia Tech, also signed a five-year contract.
Hankerson, a third-round pick from the University of Miami, is back after a hip subluxation and torn labrum limited his rookie season to four games.
“This year I came back in at the weight I played at earlier in my career,” Moss said recently, after signing autographs for eager fans at Redskins Park. “That was something that made me look forward to camp a little different than all the other years. When you play for so long, camp is not even camp to you anymore. It’s something you look forward to doing, so I just wanted a little challenge. I challenged myself because I felt like I could be better.”
A broken left hand also derailed Moss’s performance last season. He absorbed the injury, which included a broken finger, on Oct. 23 in a 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Moss had signed a three-year contract worth $15 million during the offseason and had been validating the deal by leading the Redskins in receptions and receiving yards until he was injured.
Doctors inserted three pins in Moss’s hand. The prognosis was for him to be unavailable for five to seven weeks, but Moss came back after sitting out four games.
It was the first time in four seasons that Moss had missed a game. When Moss came to Washington in 2005 via a trade that sent disgruntled wide receiver Laveranues Coles back to the Jets, he played in 16 games and went to his first and only Pro Bowl.
Moss missed four games over his next two seasons before playing in every game for three straight seasons.
“My main thing is just to be available all the time,” he said. “Whatever they call on me to do, that’s the only thing I have to do.”