Is Ricky Sanders having problems with his hands or with his head?
That's the question the Washington Redskins have been asking among themselves in recent weeks.
Sanders, one of the best natural athletes on the team, inexplicably has been dropping balls this year.
"I don't think he's ever been in this [slump] before," coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. "I know something like that really bothers him."
He's dropped passes in four different games including one in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears Sunday, when one went off his hands into the arms of Chicago's Mark Carrier.
Neither Gibbs nor Sanders seems to have any idea what the problem is.
"I think things like that are kind of hard to explain," Gibbs said.
But the two are trying to talk it out. After he dropped a possible touchdown pass against New Orleans three weeks ago, Sanders came to Gibbs for a meeting. After his mistakes Sunday, when he made a mental and a physical error on the interception, Gibbs called him in for a Wednesday meeting.
One possible explanation is that Sanders is distracted by the court action hanging over him in Houston. He faces two felony counts in connection with running over a parking lot attendant last May 1 in Houston.
Sanders' next appearance is set Monday. His attorney, Wendell Odom, thinks he can get the trial postponed until next month or February, but he won't find out until today whether Sanders will have to fly to Houston Monday for the appearance.
Gibbs tried to find out from Sanders whether the incident is bothering him.
"When you talk to somebody like that, you always want to know is there anything bothering him. You make sure he's getting his rest and everything. I feel like he's got a good mind set. He had that problem [in Houston]. We talked that through.
"When you become convinced that none of those things are the problem, then I think it's just a process of working your way
through it. We have faith in the guy. I think he's going to bounce back," Gibbs said.
Sanders is a happy-go-lucky type and acts as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
Even Odom isn't sure, though, whether he's put it out of his mind.
"I told him don't worry about this thing until the off-season, but that doesn't mean he can do it. You never know if something like this eats away at someone or not. He may be turning on inside. Who knows?" Odom said.
Sanders hasn't talked about the incident since the start of training camp, when he proclaimed his innocence.
But he admits he's not satisfied with his season. He's caught 50 passes this year compared with 80 last year. Gary Clark leads the team with 68 catches and Art Monk has 56.
"I'm just disappointed the way the season has been going. I thought I'd come out and be blistering," he said.
Sanders still hopes to return to his old form this season.
"I told him [Gibbs] I'm dedicating myself to the team the last three games [the next one is tomorrow against the New England Patriots] and I'd try to make big plays like I used to in the past," he said.
On his drop Sunday, he was in motion and didn't read the Chicagoblitz so he didn't break off his route for the short pass Mark Rypien automatically throws in that situation.
"It was just a mental breakdown," Sanders said. "I've got to keep my head up."
Gibbs said: "If he'd done that [break off], the ball would have been a little more right on him. Instead it was out in front a little bit and it caused him to bobble it."
Trying to explain his slump, Sanders said: "I know I'm a high quality receiver. I guess I'm just a little lackadaisical out there. I'm not really putting my mind on getting the ball. I'm trying to run before I get the ball and that's causing a little problem."
He said he's trying too hard to make big plays.
"They preach so much about making big plays and I'm running these little intermediate routes and I'm trying to run before I get the ball and it hits me in the chest and starts dribbling down my legs. I'm not satisfied with that [5-yarders]. I want 80-yarders," he said.
Gibbs said he thinks Sanders has too much talent not to rebound.
"He's an instinctive guy. He's as good an athlete doing all those things, catching balls and everything, as anybody who's probably ever been [playing]. I try to convince him you can't worry about anything. 'Hey, just play the game,' " Gibbs said.