Redskins' wide-outs are bonding

Deeper receiving corps competes to be on end of Brunell's passes in new offense

September 07, 2006|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

ASHBURN, Va. -- Brandon Lloyd could sense it nearly from the first time he stepped onto the practice field for the Washington Redskins last spring. As much as he was bonding with new teammates Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, there was a pervading sense of competition among the receivers.

Even though Moss had established himself as Mark Brunell's favorite target last season - in reality his only reliable receiver besides tight end Chris Cooley - Lloyd believed that he and fellow newcomer Randle El were actually fighting with Moss for one of the starting jobs.

"It's competition for Santana," Lloyd, who played his first three years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers before coming over in a trade, said recently with a laugh. "Nobody's sewed up here. Nobody has the edge. There's competition across the board."

While it's doubtful that a player who caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns, as Moss did last season, would be in jeopardy of losing his starting job, the play of Lloyd and Randle El will be vital to the Redskins if the new offense brought by coordinator Al Saunders is to be as effective as predicted.

"People always ask me if there are enough balls to go around," Moss said last week. "I think there's enough. There's a lot of plays to be made. You just can't have one guy making all the plays."

Said receivers coach Stan Hixon: "When they all got here, obviously we know that Santana is the guy. Those guys are trying to compete to see who's going to be on the field with Santana. Each practice they're trying to make plays."

In a disappointing preseason, the receivers showed little of what is expected to come.

Lloyd made a leaping catch early against the Cincinnati Bengals, but later pulled his hamstring and spent more than a week nursing it back to health. Randle El made a few nice plays against the New York Jets, but his post-catch celebrations were more exciting.

Moss barely worked up a sweat, but that didn't stop him from trying to compete.

"You can't be out here and let one guy outdo you," Moss said early in training camp. "You have to step your game up. ... We don't have a nickname yet, but once we get out there you can call us what you want. We all want to be playmakers and we all want to make big plays."

Though they could have been called "The Invisibles" during the preseason - combining for only nine catches, 121 yards and no touchdowns - Saunders believes they can resemble the receivers he had during his years in St. Louis. Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in the 1999 season with an offense that was labeled "The Greatest Show on Turf."

"They're a real good group," Saunders said of the Redskins' receivers. "They're not only very competitive in their own right, they're very skilled. I think they have a great relationship with each other, they're very close, they support each other and hopefully by the end of the year we'll get some really good production out of those guys."

In defense of this group, which also includes veterans David Patten and James Thrash, they are adjusting to what is a radically different offense.

Lloyd is a West Coast guy, having played in the Bill Walsh-inspired offense at Illinois and with the 49ers. Randle El, a quarterback at Indiana, played for the run-oriented Pittsburgh Steelers the first four years of his career.

Even Moss, who played his first four seasons with the New York Jets before coming to Washington last year, has had to adjust to an offense that changed drastically when coach Joe Gibbs gave up the reins to Saunders, whose 700-page playbook became legendary in Kansas City and St. Louis.

"It's different just in terms of getting the feel," said Randle El, who averaged a little more than 40 receptions a year in Pittsburgh. "If you have been running those routes in Kansas City, it would be like milk and cookies. Coming in, you can do it, but knowing the ins and outs, that's where you have to adjust."

Said Lloyd, who caught 91 passes the past two years in San Francisco and whose ability to go up in traffic has led to him be nicknamed "Spiderman" by a few of his new teammates: "I think the easiest part is that we're veterans, it's not like they brought two rookies in and asked them to play NFL football."

Lloyd said he has something to prove because of his seven-year, $29 million contract.

"I don't think a lot of guys see it that way, but that's how I see it," Lloyd said. "I see it as I have to prove myself all over again to a bunch of guys. I'm new to them. They've seen what I can for the last three years, but they want to see it work for them."

Money was certainly a factor for Randle El - "that was the icing," he said of Washington's seven-year, $31.25 million offer - but so was the thought of playing in a more diverse offense that will include a few tricks for a player whose 43-yard option pass went for a touchdown in the Steelers' Super Bowl victory last season.

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