Thursday's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons provides Washington's young receivers a critical chance to stand out.
With 13 wide receivers on the Redskins roster, the meeting room is crowded. For the receivers on the bottom half of the depth chart, the preseason offers critical opportunities for players to demonstrate their value,
Before the Redskins head to Richmond for training camp, check out who all is on the roster position-by-position. Today, it is the wide receivers.
particularly on special teams.
DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon, Jamison Crowder, Rashad Ross and Ryan Grant return from last year's squad, and Josh Doctson was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft this year. That leaves Maurice Harris, Jarvis Turner, Valdez Showers, Dez Stewart, Reggie Diggs, Kendal Thompson and T.J. Thorpe competing for roster spots during the preseason.
"We have some guys that have shown to be worthy of getting these reps," Gruden said of the wide receivers. "It'll be fun to watch these guys and then see how they do on special teams and that'll help make our decision moving forward."
For the players who were signed in the last few weeks, the opportunity to showcase their skills in the preseason is something to relish.
"Literally wherever I touch the field I'm trying to show them, on special teams to offense and even if I end up on defense I'll try to make something work," Stewart, who was signed on July 18, said. "Anywhere they put me, I'm looking to show them I got what it takes."
While Stewart jokes about changing positions, Kendal Thompson already has.
Thompson played quarterback at Utah before switching to wide receiver to survive at the NFL level, and now tight end Jordan Reed, another former quarterback, has been helping Thompson with his transition. Against the Falcons, Thompson is hoping to demonstrate his wide receiver chops against an opposing team after being signed on the first day of training camp.
"I'm definitely excited, you know it's the second time I've strapped on the pads as a wide receiver and so definitely looking forward to going out there and seeing where I've improved and what I need to improve upon," Thompson said. "It's always good to go out there and square up against another team so I think our team as a whole is ready to go out there and compete."
The entire group of young wide receivers understands how pivotal special teams is to their future with the team.
"You've got to be versatile," Showers said. "You got to show them that you can do different things that way they can fit you under their roster because you can do different things so that's what I'm looking to do."
Preparedness has helped receiver Maurice Harris, who has flashed in camp and even worked reps with the first team. Harris' unique college career allowed him to learn a pro-style offense under head coach Jeff Tedford and play with pro-caliber quarterback talent in No.1-overall pick Jared Goff.
"The main thing is knowing the playbook," Harris said. "You know, if you don't know the playbook you can't play, so just standing on top of me about knowing the plays and knowing what I have to do and being prepared."
For young receivers, preparation is key to handling game day jitters when there are so many thoughts going on in the moment while the play clock is ticking.
"Just make sure you hear the playcall, just make sure you understand what you're doing so that can make you play faster and be comfortable," Garçon said. "You don't want to mess up early in your career, you're hesitant because you're not sure if you're doing it right, not sure if you're lined up right, not sure if the coaches called the play right or if it's what you heard, you're so worried about the play, being in an NFL game, being on TV, playing against a different defense, so it's a lot of things going on in your head when you're a rookie for your first game."
As if that were not enough of a whirlwind, Atlanta native T.J. Thorpe will have a few extra thoughts running through his head on Thursday. Thorpe grew up a Falcons fan and his father was a longtime Falcons season ticket holder. Returning to the Georgia Dome for the first time as a player instead of a fan, Thorpe's entire extended family is coming out of the woodwork to attend the Thursday's game.
"Apparently I have long lost cousins I had no clue about until like a week ago," Thorpe said with a smile.
While Thorpe's family will be in attendance (and rooting for the Redskins), he is more concerned with his performance on the field.
"Any point they put me in, just go out and show (the coaches) I know my assignment, I'm a physical guy, and that I belong on the field," Thorpe said. "So whether it's returning, running down on kickoff, catching balls, whatever, that's what I'm going to do."