Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News & Notes: Brandon Banks, The Return Game, LaRon Landry, Tampa Bay And More
ASHBURN – Brandon Banks, who has been limited through much of the Washington Redskins’ first month of practice and had not participated since Aug. 16, was fully cleared to compete yesterday.
The 5-foot-7, 155-pound receiver, in his second year out of Kansas State, underwent surgery on a torn meniscus during the offseason and was slotted to be the Redskins’ primary punt and kick returner. He’s had a tumultuous year after being stabbed in February at a nightclub and sustaining a collapsed lung.
“I haven’t talked to him, but hopefully, there’s no backlash with his knee,” said head coach Mike Shanahan. “But it looked like he was practicing fine.”
Banks, who declined a request to speak about his return to practice, returned 46 kickoffs for an average of 25.1 yards with a touchdown last season and 38 punts for an average of 11.3 yards. He also caught two passes, including a 15-yard reception against Tennessee on Nov. 21.
His standing with the team remains uncertain. If fully healthy, Banks figures to resume his role as a returner and was listed as the top player at each position on the depth chart prior to the preseason opener against Pittsburgh on Aug. 12.
Banks returned one kickoff for 58 yards and one punt for 18 yards in the 16-7 victory over the Steelers, but aggravated the knee while running routes at practice on Aug. 16 and was held out of the second half of practice.
He visited noted surgeon James Andrews later that week to reevaluate the knee, at which point he opted for the platelet-rich plasma treatment instead of additional surgery. The method involves drawing blood from the targeted area, spinning in a centrifuge and re-injecting it – a process that is supposed to stimulate healing and tissue regeneration.
Terrence Austin, also in his second year, replaced Banks as the primary punt returner each of the past two games, while Austin, Anthony Armstrong and rookie Niles Paul have all returned kicks for the Redskins in his absence.
- Austin has really come on strong in the first three games of the preseason both as a receiver and a returner. He’s caught 10 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, including a team-high 71 yards Thursday in the Redskins’ 34-31 loss at Baltimore. This performance is all what Shanahan said he saw last year with Austin, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound second-year spark plug out of UCLA.
“You could see that he was a very smart football player – great quickness, great instincts – but it takes some time to learn to run routes in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “But he’s been a student of the game and he’s kind of a guy that’s working out all the time, so it really doesn’t surprise us that he’s kind of taken his game to another level just by how he works.”
Shanahan later said that he doesn’t have any potential target number in mind for the number of receivers he keeps on the 53-man roster, whether it be five, six or seven, so there seems to be a bit of room for Banks, Austin and perhaps a veteran like Donte Stallworth. Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong and third-round pick Leonard Hankerson are all, in decreasing order of likelihood, guaranteed spots one way or another.
- The cut to 53 takes place Saturday, but the cut to 80 must take place by 4 p.m. Tuesday. A few players will be easy cuts based on performance – or lack thereof – but others will be trickier, especially because the Redskins, as all teams, have had only this past month and not the mini-camp and OTA periods to evaluate the players. “Going from 90 to 80 is not hard,” Shanahan said. “Even though sometimes between 90 and 80, there are still guys that have an opportunity to play in the National Football League.”
- Strong safety LaRon Landry was supposed to be cleared to play early last week, but he strained his right hamstring and has been out of action since. Kareem Moore, like Landry, is on the physically-unable-to-perform list and is a candidate to remain there when the season begins next week. Landry, though, wants no part of that.
“Oh, don’t even ask me that,” Landry said, almost as if it’s the first time he’s considered it. “Definitely not. Definitely not! Not gonna happen. I don’t see why. Why should I? I should be ready. I’m making a lot of progress, making a lot of positive strides and like I said, I’m going to be ready for Sept. 11” against the Giants.
Shanahan said nearly as much, confirming that someone with a strained hamstring isn’t a candidate to miss the first six weeks of the season, as the rules of being on the PUP list for the first game would dictate. Then again, “I’ve seen tweaks take three days. I’ve seen tweaks take three weeks, so you don’t really know where it’s at,” Shanahan said.
- The injury list is shrinking now that Banks has returned and Ryan Torain, who broke his left hand Aug. 3, is participating fully, but Malcolm Kelly is still out with a sore left foot. The chances of putting him on the PUP list – or even injured reserve – are remote. “I wouldn’t say injured reserve with that type of injury,” Shanahan said. “I’m hoping he’s back here in the next few days.” If he’s not, his chances of appearing in a Redskins uniform again are slim – as if they weren’t already.
- Shanahan was asked to break down the differences between John Beck and Rex Grossman. “Everybody’s got different styles,” he said. “I think where most people make a comparison that they’re looking at speed of a quarterback. John’s probably a little bit faster than Rex, and Rex has got a little bit more experience in the National Football League than John does. But besides that, we ask quarterbacks to execute their offense. Everybody’s got their strengths. Everybody’s got their weaknesses. But like I said, I’ve got two guys that can play in the National Football League and I’ve got confidence in both guys, and whoever wins the job, I feel very good about our quarterback situation.”
- Jabar Gaffney said Beck has a bit more swagger than one would expect from him as a quarterback, given his down-to-earth, personable, man-on-the-street personality. He said the same thing a week ago, but took it a bit further Monday, mentioning his game preparation and his ability to get his teammates fired up. “[His excitement is] not normal at all,” Gaffney said. “A dude from BYU – that’s real funny. Other than that, he’s like quiet, walking around, and then he just turns it on, turns his swag on.”
- With Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay being the fourth and final one of the preseason, there are a few questions as to how the game will be treated. Last year, Shanahan had his starters warm up, only to sit them before the game and let the reserves play the entire time against Arizona. This one might be slightly different because of the evaluation period needed with the five-month lockout.
Shanahan hasn’t given any clues as to what he’ll do, though nearly every player – both Beck and Grossman included – are preparing to play a significant amount of time.
“I want to get out there and play,” said cornerback Josh Wilson. “I haven’t been able to play the last two [because of a groin injury], so I definitely [want] to get out there and play and get that feel again.” Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said the same thing as Wilson, albeit more hesitantly. “I don’t mind going out there and playing,” Hall said. “Definitely if I can get O.J. [Atogwe] and LaRon out there with me. And Josh. Like I said, we haven’t played with each other, so to get all of us out there at one time, I would definitely sacrifice my body for a couple plays out there with those guys.”