Leonard Hankerson might be pulling away from Morgan

After receiving a relatively even allotment of playing time in each of the Washington Redskins’ first two games of the season as they split time at the ‘Z’ receiver spot, Leonard Hankerson and Joshua Morgan saw their snap counts trend in opposite directions in Sunday’s loss to the Lions.

Dating from last season, Hankerson and Morgan have alternated frequently opposite No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon. Morgan last season recorded 48 passes for 510 yards and two touchdowns while starting 15 games. Hankerson in 2012 made five starts and recorded 38 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns.

During training camp and the preseason, the two continued alternating as they competed for the starting job at the ‘Z’ position.

Against Philadelphia, Morgan got the start opposite Garcon and played 34 offensive snaps (45 percent of the plays) while Hankerson played 41 snaps (55 percent). Hankerson recorded five catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets. Morgan, meanwhile, had four catches for 51 yards on five targets.

The following week against Green Bay, Hankerson got the start and played 30 snaps (49 percent) while Morgan played 26 (43 percent). Hankerson had three catches for 35 yards on three targets while Morgan caught two of six balls that came his way for 39 yards. Morgan in that game committed a glaring error by tipping a pass up into the air for a Green Bay interception.

This past week, Hankerson got his second consecutive start, but his playing time increased. He played 54 snaps (70 percent) while Morgan was on the field for only 24 offensive snaps (31 percent). Hankerson recorded three catches for 21 yards on seven targets. Meanwhile, Robert Griffin III targeted Morgan two times and Morgan caught both passes while recording 19 receiving yards.

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Hankerson earned an increase in playing time because he stood out more than Morgan the previous week. But he added that the team has an ongoing competition on its hands.

“We thought [Hankerson] had a better game the week before so we gave [him] a few more reps than we did [Morgan] just because of his play the week before,” Shanahan said. “A lot of competition there for playing time.”

Hankerson entered this season hoping to display improved consistency after being plagued by frequent drops last season. The third-year pro also hoped a healthy offseason for the first time in his young career would lead to more development.

Morgan, who signed with Washington as a free agent last season, played all of the 2012 season with seven screws and a plate in his right ankle. That made it hard for him to make certain cuts because the pain proved too great. He had the screws and plate removed over the offseason and also banked on improved health for increased success.

Asked about improvements he has noticed in Morgan’s game, Shanahan said: “He’s much better than he was a year ago, there is no question about it, but there is still that competition. People are fighting for playing time. You’ve got two guys that are close, and each game dictates how much they will play the following week.”

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