Leonard Hankerson aims to earn spot in crowded receiver rotation

Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson went through his first practice as a member of the 53-man roster Monday after spending the past three weeks waiting for his activation from the physically unable to perform list. Now, he will try to earn a spot in the rotation for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Jay Gruden said he doesn’t yet know how the team will use the fourth-year wide receiver. But Hankerson, who spent the offseason, preseason and first six weeks of the regular season rehabbing after surgery to repair a torn ACL, said he’s ready to help in any way possible.

“Everybody brings a whole lot to the table, but I just go out there and, I feel like I run good routes, I get open,” Hankerson said. “I do a whole lot of good things. But it’s just about helping the team out and doing whatever I can do at the time, whenever my number is called to make a play.”

The Redskins activated Hankerson from the PUP list last Tuesday, the day players departed for their bye-week getaways. Hankerson had practiced the previous three weeks, but was not permitted to play. Now, he faces the possibility of suiting up Sunday in what will represent his first game since Nov. 17, 2013.
However, Hankerson first must carve out a role for himself in what is already a crowded receiving unit.

DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are the starters, and Andre Roberts joins them as the slot receiver in many of the team’s frequently-used three-receiver sets. Rookie Ryan Grant has played sparingly in each of this season’s games, and 14th-year veteran Santana Moss has dressed for the last four games while receiving only a handful of snaps. Aldrick Robinson dressed for the first five games but has been inactive for the last four.

Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay have hardly used receivers beyond Jackson, Garcon and Roberts (Grant has five catches on 10 targets and Robinson one on three. Moss has no targets).

Because of needs at other positions, Redskins coaches find it hard to justify keeping six wide receivers, especially if none outside of Grant regularly play on special teams units.

The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Hankerson boasts great size and versatility. In his three NFL seasons, he has lined up at all three receiver positions depending on the situation. But he does not have extensive special teams experience, which hurts his case.

“It’s a tough deal,” Gruden said. “The wide receiving room is very full and they’re all very good, actually, I think. The guys that aren’t playing or aren’t really producing are still excellent wideouts. I think Santana could be very productive in a lot of offenses. Same with Aldrick. Now you throw Leonard in the mix and he’s another one that’s a big receiver that has great hands and runs good routes. So how we’re going to use him, I don’t know yet. It’s better to have too many than not enough, I guess. But I’m sure it’s frustrating for those guys who aren’t getting the touches, and sometimes it’s frustrating for the guys who are playing who aren’t getting enough touches. We’ve just got to continue to go about our business and focus on winning games and not so much worry about the touches. The touches will come for everybody. But we just have to manage it the best way we can, and we don’t know how that’s going to be yet.”

Hankerson, who is in the last year of his contract, said he understands the challenging decision his coaches face. He added that competing in a crowded receiving unit also doesn’t faze him.

“It’s been like that for me forever; since I was at Miami,” he said. “We brought in five, six receivers at one time. In college, most everybody played, but here, I mean, you’ve got to work for it. But we’re all competitive against each other and we’re going to push each other. … We’re all going to go out there and work hard. We’ve got a talented group. It’s got to be the best receiving corps in the league, and it’s about putting it together.”

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