ASHBURN, Va. – Who's the toughest guy to cover on the Washington Redskins?
Is it hulking tight end Fred Davis? Free agent pickups Pierre Garcon or Josh Morgan? Or maybe sizeable second-year wideout Leonard Hankerson? Ask Redskins safety DeJon Gomes, and the answer is simple:
According to Gomes, 33-year old Santana Moss — the Redskins' longest-tenured veteran — is still Washington's toughest player to check. Even after being relegated to the slot receiver position and coming off what was statistically his worst season in seven with the team.
"He has the speed," Gomes says. "But he also has a lot of moves off the line. Nobody can get hands on him."
With the release of Chris Cooley last week, Moss became the only remaining member of the 2005 Redskins, the year he was traded by the New York Jets in exchange for Laveranues Coles. He caught a career-high 84 passes for 1,483 yards that season, and his production remained largely consistent over the next five years. Then came a disappointing 2011, which Moss finished with 46 catches for 584 yards after breaking his hand in Week 7. When he was on the field, his yards per reception from 2010-2011 were the fewest in his NFL career.
If he had lost a step, it might explain why Redskins coaches asked Moss to slim down this offseason to keep his place on the club. So Moss showed up 15 pounds lighter in the spring, and faster, say teammates.
"Honestly, man, things change in life, and I'm well aware of that," Moss said last week. "I've never been a guy that was complacent about where I am. I've never had a hard time adapting.
"Whether the coaches need me to be the guy I used to be or not, and be something less, at least they gave me an opportunity."
The preseason showed he had gained a step, and he will likely see the field in three- and four-receiver sets beside Garcon and Morgan or Hankerson.
For years, Moss and Cooley were the only relevant targets for Redskins quarterbacks. Moss' 488 receptions for Washington are fifth-most in team history. Finally, he'll share some of the spotlight as rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III begins his NFL education in earnest.
"Santana comes to work every day and does what he has to do," Hankerson says. "In meetings, he's helping us young guys out and he's preparing like the old Santana. There's nothing different."
Moss is still one of the fastest players in what has become a diverse if not star-studded Washington receiving group. Davis, 26, was named the team's offensive player of 2011 despite being suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Garcon, 26, led the offensively inept Indianapolis Colts with 947 receiving yards last season. Morgan, 27, seemed on the cusp of a breakout effort in San Francisco last year before a season-ending leg injury.
In a division full of star wide receivers in their prime, the Redskins have none, but do have one of the deepest groups.
"They're all good," says Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson. "They all do different things that make it hard for a defensive back. Santana's quick. Pierre can take the top off of a defense. Hank is a big receiver. They all have different strengths that make it tough to check them."
But if you ask the right Redskin, there's none tougher than Moss.