ASHBURN, Va. (AP) —Anthony Armstrong didn’t stand out for a change when the Washington Redskins receivers lined up for drills Tuesday at practice.
That is a good thing, if he is going to make the team.
Armstrong was again No. 13 — and not the lone wideout in the yellow non-contact jersey, a piece of apparel he had been forced to wear since hurting his right shoulder on Aug. 2. Armstrong had fun decorating the jersey for various practices — one day he sported a tic-tac-toe grid — but it was no fun losing ground in one of the most competitive battles of Washington’s preseason.
“There’s a lot of ground to make up, in making plays,” Armstrong said. “I know that I’m capable of doing that. Our offense is running great right now. I’ve got to be able to fit in.”
The audition to become one of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III’s regular season targets has turned into quite a show, featuring a diverse cast of characters trying to stand out on coach Mike Shanahan’s stage. A decent case can be made for as many as nine of the receivers vying to make the 53-man roster when the final cuts are made next week, with some jobs more secure than others.
* The new No. 1 is Pierre Garcon, whom the Redskins (No. 25 in the AP Pro32) welcomed with a five-year, $42.5-million contract during free agency. He has developed a quick rapport with Griffin that was evident throughout training camp and in the first two preseason games.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s started off on the right foot,” Garcon said.
* Moving to the slot is Santana Moss, whose six-year run as Washington’s top yardage receiver ended last year. Rather than concede he is starting to fade at age 33, he dropped 15 pounds and seems revitalized, figuring to benefit from Griffin’s mobility.
“Now we’re not going to have these safeties playing so deep because they know that at the end of the day he can pull that ball down and run,” Moss said. “Now they’ve got to play honest, and that should open up a lot of lanes for us.”
* Joshua Morgan signed on the same day as Garcon, getting a contract worth $12 million over the first two years, but he has been forced to play catch-up after straining his left hamstring during training camp. He was also limited during offseason workouts while recovering from a broken right ankle, but he figures to be more in the mix Saturday when the D.C. native makes his home preseason debut against the Indianapolis Colts.
“I don’t want to rush back out here, not be healthy and go out there and put some garbage on the film,” Morgan said. “I want to go out there and be healthy and put on film what I can really do. They know what they paid for.”
* Armstrong had a breakout year with 871 yards receiving in 2010, but he caught only seven passes last year and realizes his position has become tenuous. He kept his sense of humor while wearing the non-contact jersey, saying he was getting good practice at being “extra-elusive,” but Saturday’s game could be huge for him.
“Unfortunately, you’re coming off of a bad season, so usually it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?”’ he said. “Hopefully there was enough good back in 2010 that weighs heavily on their mind.”
* Brandon Banks is trying to prove he is more than just a big-play return man in a tiny package. He ran back a punt 91 yards for a touchdown Saturday against the Chicago Bears, but Shanahan has made it clear that Banks needs to contribute as a receiver as well. The 5-foot-7 Banks has caught only two of the nine passes thrown his way in preseason.
“When a guy has game-breaking potential and ability, which he has shown, it is tough not to keep a guy like that,” Shanahan said. “But we have a lot of competition and that is what you want to have. Who else can return punts? Who else can play wide receiver? That is what you have to evaluate, and sometimes you let some good football players go.”
* Looking safer is second-year wideout Leonard Hankerson, who looked ready to blossom last year when he had a 106-yard game against the Miami Dolphins. He also hurt his right hip in that game and was done for the season, but he is fully recovered and has too much potential to ignore.
* There also is Dezmon Briscoe, trying to get back on his feet after conditioning and off-field troubles got him cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month. Briscoe had three catches and a touchdown Saturday.
* Then there is Aldrick Robinson, who can return kicks and has had a good preseason (eight catches, 132 yards) after spending most of last year on the practice squad. Third-year wideout Terrence Austin, another bubble player who helped himself by throwing a key block on Banks’ punt return against the Bears, is a reminder that versatility can help in determining that final roster spot.
The pool is so deep that Shanahan moved promising youngster Niles Paul to tight end. Certainly, the coach this year will be cutting receivers who would have made in the team in the past, a sign that the rebuilding project is working.
“I just want to be as valuable as possible,” Austin said. “You’re going to have a lot of guys here that can do a number of things, and you’ve got to weed out who can help you the most.”