On August 9 in Buffalo, Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garçon performed a preseason somersault when he scored against the Bills. He didn't mean to scare anybody. He was just inspired by the U.S. women's gymnastics team.
As Washington's prized acquisition, Garçon made good in free agency with a five-year, $42.5 million contract. Now, the former Indianapolis Colt is raring to go, to prove he's worth every penny the Redskins paid.
So how can a 25-year old wideout, on a new team with a rookie quarterback, have a breakout year in his fifth season?
Let's start with opportunities, which will come early and often for Garçon.
As soon as he learned that Robert Griffin III was a Redskin, Garçon looked forward to establishing chemistry with him. The connection started during organized team activities, grew sharper in minicamp and training camp and transferred over to the preseason.
In addition to his screen-pass touchdown in Buffalo, Garçon quickly took on the role of Mr. Reliable as Griffin's top receiving threat. According to RotoWorld.com, Pierre was "heavily targeted with eight receptions for 100 (total) yards" in Washington's exhibition contests. And in the Redskins' third game against his former team, Garçon was "locked in as RGIII's primary target, seeing six of his first nine throws" against the Colts.
“Having a new quarterback and growing together is a good thing,” Garçon said, via Rich Campbell of The Washington Times. “We’ll be his first receivers in the NFL. We’ll get to grow together and teach each other things and have success together.”
Skill Set to Separate
When analyzing Pierre Garçon, there's a lot to like.
First and foremost, he has superb run-after-the-catch skills, which should fit in nicely with the West Coast style of offense the Redskins like to run.
He is also a strong receiver who uses that strength to separate.
“(Pierre) has speed and explosion," said head coach Mike Shanahan, via John Keim of The Washington Examiner. "He’ll block. He’s competitive. He has great hands. He will definitely be a big-time receiver for our team.”
Meanwhile, the coach's son will benefit from Garçon's presence.
“Pierre is a hell of a player and I’m very excited that we have him," said 'Skins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, in another Examiner column by Keim:
(Garçon) works. He’s not a guy if he’s not getting the ball he just stops playing. He helps us in the run game, he helps us clearing stuff out with his speed. He’s a professional. He does everything we ask. I’m really pumped to have him.
Kyle has a history with talented receivers. As the former offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans, he relied heavily on Andre Johnson, who was virtually unstoppable before nagging injuries shelved the five-time Pro Bowler.
Garçon is three inches shorter than Johnson, and critics say he's not a prototype No. 1 receiver. But in this writer's opinion, Pierre plays bigger than he is and is just as aggressive as Andre in the open field.
Garçon is also fast like Johnson, who moonlighted as a track star at the University of Miami. We're talking 4.41 fast (in the 40-yard dash).
Garçon has so much speed, he has even predicted (more than once) that he can beat RGIII in a race. We will patiently wait for that. But for now, Pierre can show defensive backs how fleet of foot he is, by leaving them in the dust.
Fellow Weapons Will Help
In addition to Garçon, the Redskins signed former San Francisco 49er Josh Morgan in free agency. Like Pierre, Josh is a fifth-year pro that has developed a rapport with Washington's signal-callers. But Morgan believes he and Garçon can have breakout years because Griffin has the talent to make it happen.
"He's as fast as Michael Vick, but he can make all the throws that Peyton Manning can make and all the reads Tom Brady can make," gushed Morgan to reporters at training camp, per Michael Coleman of On Tap Magazine. "He's got the whole package."
In his first year, Griffin would be fortunate to play on par with any one of the those three quarterbacks, but he'll only be as good as the players around him.
According to ESPN.com:
"Big plays are Garçon's specialty. (In Indy, he had) seven touchdowns of 30-plus yards combined in the past two seasons." But unfortunately, he lacked consistency and "struggled against safety help."
So to make up for that, the Redskins will employ multiple pass catchers to take the heat off of Pierre.
At 6'2", 210 pounds, Leonard Hankerson will be an intimidating force across from Garçon. According to RotoWorld.com, the Redskins plan to "rotate" the second-year man with Morgan at the "Z" spot (or flanker position), which will keep both players fresh.
Opposing defenses will also have to account for 12-year veteran Santana Moss, whose speed in the slot will distract safeties from helping corners cover Garçon. Morgan also has experience in the slot and can play there too.
In a cost-cutting move, Washington released long-time tight end Chris Cooley in favor of the more versatile Niles Paul. Paul was originally a receiver and can line up anywhere. He'll also allow Fred Davis to run free in two-tight end sets.
All of the above should free up Garçon from double-teams, and he should have a legitimate chance to eclipse the 1,000-yard milestone he failed to reach in Indianapolis.
In case you're wondering, the last Redskins receiver to accomplish the feat was Moss in 2010, when he hauled in 93 passes for 1,115 yards and six scores. Santana also hit the mark in 2005 and 2008, but according to Pro Football Reference, Laveranues Coles was the only other Redskin to crack 1,000 yards in the last decade. Coles totaled 82 catches for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns in 2003.
Experience with a Football Legend
There's no doubting Garçon when it comes to his ability to adjust to new circumstances. With the Colts, he went from catching passes from future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to hauling in desperation throws from Indy backups Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins.
All the while, he never complained and actually improved statistically each year, despite the fact that he was clearly the No. 2 to three-time All-Pro Reggie Wayne.
Now No. 1 in Washington, Garçon seems destined for a breakout year, but he wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for the wisdom and work ethic he gained from the meticulous Manning.
According to Keith Schleiden of Pro Football Weekly, Manning was never one to heap praise on young up-and-comers, no matter how well they performed. In fact, he had his share of frustrating moments with Garçon when Pierre dropped balls or made mental errors.
But once the former Division III (Mount Union) star got the hang of the Colts' elaborate offense, he shined, and Manning couldn't help but notice.
"Guys like Austin Collie and Pierre, (they're) excellent when it comes to preparation all season long," Manning was quoted as saying in Schleiden's column. "As an older player, I do put my arm around (them) sometimes and say, 'Hey, you're doing good, you're doing good.' I try to keep (them) humble. But (they) got a good attitude. (They) love the game. And you watch Austin and Pierre block. Any receiver that blocks well, loves football, and I appreciate that."
“Learning the system is the hardest part,” said Garçon, via Brian Murphy of HomerMcFanboy.com. “You have to get on the same page. Adjust to that and get your body and mindset prepared for that (and everybody can succeed). We’re going to do a lot of different stuff.”
And if the young guys are quick studies, Pierre will somersault to a breakout year.
Joe Versage is a NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage.
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