Leonard Hankerson bides his time

As a third-round pick in April's NFL Draft, Leonard Hankerson was seen as the solution to the Washington Redskins' problems in the receiving game.

Here he was, a 6-foot-2 specimen who caught a record 13 touchdown passes as a senior at Miami last fall and became just the third player at the school to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

The thought was that the Redskins would have a solid possession receiver in Jabar Gaffney, a proven slot receiver in Santana Moss, a speedy deep threat in Anthony Armstrong and a tall red-zone target in Hankerson.

That hasn't worked out the way it was expected. Hankerson, who has struggled with drops and inconsistent route running during training camp and the preseason, wasn't even active for his first NFL game Sunday when the Redskins defeated the New York Giants 28-14.

"I'm assuming it's because when I had them three drops or whatever [during the preseason], but I don't know," Hankerson said. "I mean, I have no clue. I'm just out here working and trying to get better each and every week and keep doing what I've got to do on my end and not worry about what's going on out there."

Instead, Hankerson watched as Niles Paul, a fifth-round pick who had the same ball security questions coming out of Nebraska, was active for the Redskins on Sunday. Originally pegged as a potential member of the practice squad, the 6-foot-1 Paul improved through the preseason and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.

Paul has been especially productive on special teams, where Hankerson does not play. Paul has some quickness but is also a downhill runner as a returner, and he nearly tipped a 38-yard field goal attempt by Lawrence Tynes that linebacker Brian Orakpo did end up blocking.

"Niles Paul, by far, has been a guy that can work on special teams," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's been very consistent all throughout the preseason games with the way he's practiced."

He did not see any time in the rotation as a receiver, but he did catch four passes for 37 yards during the preseason.

That's fine for Paul, who knows his place in the rotation. The Redskins also have Terrence Austin and veteran Donte Stallworth working at the position, and Brandon Banks, a receiver in name only, is the team's primary returner.

"Obviously we've got 'Tana and Jabar, and those guys are out there making plays," Paul said. "Me, as a receiver, I'm just a role player as of now. If I continue to play my role, that's all I'm focused on."

And for Hankerson?

"I've just got to keep focused and it's like I'm back at my freshman year at the University of Miami--you've got to keep doing what I've got to do, keep working hard, keep competing at practice and just keep my mind right," he said.

hanahan kept Donte Stallworth and rookie Leonard Hankerson inactive. While Paul is a big special teams contributor and Stallworth has experience, Hankerson, a third-round pick out of Miami, could be the odd receiver out for a while.

“Hankerson is a little bit further behind, but it doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a great player,” Shanahan said. “But he just has to keep on working on the things in practice to consistently show the coaches that he’ll be ready to play on game day. You see the ability, but you have to see the consistency.”

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