Josh Doctson played 20 snaps in the Redskins season opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ryan Grant logged nearly double as many snaps than the 2016 first-rounder. Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder each played about 30 more snaps than Doctson.
The issue here is not about Doctson against Grant. The latter is a useful player for Washington, and Grant performed well against the Eagles. He's versatile across all three receiver spots, and gives great effort on special teams. Don't let Grant's playing time, and production, confuse the situation with Doctson.
Washington head coach Jay Gruden opened up on Monday about how little Doctson got used against the Eagles, and the answers weren't particularly reassuring.
"I need to see him out here at practice, you know, on a consistent basis. He will make plays in practice," Gruden said. "The more plays he makes in practice, the more comfortable that Kirk will be, the more reps he is going to get and that is going to happen. It will happen."
There's some good news there: Gruden expects Doctson to develop into the role he was drafted for. The rest of the coach's quote doesn't exactly spell a good situation though.
As a rookie, Doctson missed basically the entire 2016 season. He dealt with Achilles injuries that the team's medical staff could not figure out.
In training camp this season, Doctson looked great. He flashed skill and speed, meshed with precise route running and fluidity combined with elite body control. It was the total package for a few weeks. Then a hamstring injury popped up, and Doctson missed practice and preseason games.
Things seemed okay until the hamstring injury flared up again prior to the third preseason game. Doctson was a late scratch for that contest, though after the game Gruden said had it been a regular season contest, his receiver could have played.
Add it all up, and Doctson has missed a ton of practice time. Gruden maintains his wideout is healthy now though.
"He is ready to go. I think it is something more that he has to perform and he has to play well to earn more playing time. You know, he hasn’t practiced a whole lot. Last year he didn’t practice a whole lot. This year, he has been in and out of the lineup a little bit," Gruden said. "I think once he establishes himself as an everyday player, he is going to get the reps and he is going to prove that he is one of our top receivers. He’ll get more and more reps as the season goes on without a doubt, but he has got to earn that right like everybody does."
Earn that right. Those words from Gruden stand out.
When Doctson was on the field against Philadelphia, it didn't seem like Kirk Cousins even looked in his direction to throw. Cousins is well known for quickly advancing through his pass progressions, but Doctson seemed like an afterthought on Sunday.
Some of that must come from a lack of work together in practice.
Unfortunately, however, for Cousins, Gruden and the Redskins, Doctson can play. Whether or not he has given the practice performances, the tape is out there. As a senior at TCU in 2015 Doctson had more than 1,300 receiving yards in 10 games. The talent is real, and the Redskins could use it. That's why the organization drafted him 22nd overall in 2016.
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Gruden's talk about practice could be camoflauge for something else. Doctson is not a guy who likes to talk, and some people might mistake that for moodiness. Gruden and Doctson joked during training camp about his proclivity to stay quiet, but maybe between missed practices and not speaking up, some coaches or players get the wrong vibe.
Until Doctson produces on the field, the questions and mystery will continue to escalate. In the brief portions of practice the media gets to watch, it's not unusual to see Doctson putting in extra time stretching his legs between reps. Gruden maintains the player is healthy, and Doctson echoes the sentiment.
The coach's tone Sunday after the loss was slightly different than at Monday's press conference though. On Sunday, Gruden explained the light workload for Doctson like this, "We’re getting him back in there. We’re making sure he’s 100 percent healthy and ready to go, and can handle practice after practice, and game after game. We’ll give him more and more reps as the season progresses."
While the coach mentioned practice, he also brought up health in his postgame comments. By Monday, the focus had switched to just practice, and, certainly, the player's health and his availability for practice are comingled.
The Redskins offense performed largely terribly against Philadelphia, and on paper, Doctson can help.
It's only one game, and Redskins fans should not worry too much at this early stage of the season. If Doctson continues to see minimal playing time, and be outproduced by Brian Quick, the speculation will mount.
Practice? Is this about practice?
The Redskins listed Doctson as a full participant in practice all three days leading up to the Eagles game.
Maybe those three days are not enough to make up for a lost rookie year and a number of missed sessions this training camp. Looking around the NFL, however, top players get on the field once they're able to. This weekend the Redskins will face the Rams, and by all accounts, star defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Donald held out all of training camp and just rejoined the team. His NFL track record is a mile long and quite impressive. Doctson's isn't. Still, Rams coach Sean McVay hinted that Donald will be back on the field as soon as possible, and that could mean this weekend.
In pro football, assuming medical clearance, the best players need to be on the field. That should be the case for the Redskins too.
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