Reason for optimism in DC?
Four games into his third season, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is showing signs of becoming the impact player the Redskins hoped he'd be when they selected him in the third round of the 2011 draft.
Hankerson has 15 receptions, 185 yards and two touchdowns, which puts him on pace for career highs in receptions (60), yards (740) and touchdowns (8).
Wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel said Hankerson’s emergence is due to a number of factors, including experience and a change in practice habits during the offseason.
“The best way for players to become confident is if they approach practice with a game-like mentality,” McDaniel said. “He stepped up his practice repetitions, ran them at a different speed than he had traditionally. That’s why he’s confident and why you don’t see double-catches.”
Hankerson missed the offseason in 2011 because of the NFL lockout and was sidelined in 2012 because of hip surgery. This past offseason was Hankerson’s first as a professional and it afforded him the time to hone his craft.
“Players say this all the time: The more repetitions you have, everything slows down,” McDaniel added. “You’re starting to see the game slow down for him.”
Pierre Garçon leads the Redskins’ receiving corps in most statistical categories, including playing time with 244 snaps. Hankerson, though, is second in snaps with 175, well ahead of Santana Moss (148), Josh Morgan (100) and Aldrick Robinson (51).
Hankerson’s bump in playing time is good indication of his growing value to the team.
“I’m just more experienced,” the 24-year-old said this week at Redskins Park. “This is my third year [and] as you get older, you mature, you learn more and I think that’s what’s happening.”
Hankerson added: “When you want to be a great player, you want improve all around. You don’t want to pick just one area where you want to improve at. You want to improve everything.”
Last Sunday, he enjoyed a strong performance in Oakland, reeling in four catches for 49 yards -- including a key grab in the third quarter -- to help the Redskins earn their first victory. Trailing 14-10, Hankerson made a sharp cut in front of a Raiders' defender, snagged a short pass from Robert Griffin III over the middle and took it 17 yards down to the Oakland 12. Three plays later, Griffin found Garçon for the go-ahead touchdown.
In addition to becoming a persistent threat on the field, McDaniel said Hankerson has also developed into a big help on the sideline. He’s become adept at picking up on subtleties in the opposing team’s game plan and then relaying them to the Redskins’ coaching staff.
“He’s awesome on the sideline during games because he has relevant, pertinent information that a lot of players don’t always see,” McDaniel said. “ He tells me what he’s seeing from the defense. We have communication from a vantage point that, as a coach on the sidelines, you don’t get to see. You don’t see people’s eye contact. You don’t see hand signals, stuff that he’s been picking up. It’s really helpful.”
The next step for Hankerson, according to McDaniel, is consistency in production, route running and other details of the game.
“For Hank, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and improve upon the subtle things that he could do better,” McDanield said. “He has yet to be able to play a 16 game season and be fully healthy and fully contributing every game. So it’s doing what he’s done these first four weeks and extrapolate that for 16 games."
McDaniel added: “It’s hard to be consistent for that long. But that’s his next challenge.”