Dezmon Briscoe is undoubtedly on his last chance in Washington. After performing well in the preseason last year he struggled with any kind of consistency, dropping passes and looking out of sorts timing his routes. It comes down to the preseason again, but this year there is even more pressure.
Prior to camp, Briscoe’s closest rival for the fifth receiver spot was Aldrick Robinson. However, Robinson has been impressive so far, drawing praise from Robert Griffin III for the way he has gone about his business.
On July 28, The Washington Post quoted Mike Shanahan as saying that Robinson and Leonard Hankerson are “much improved, but we’ve got a ways to go.” Just two days later, Griffin was enthusing about Robinson’s leap up from last year. The official team website also ran a piece on Robinson, entitled "Redskins on the Rise." From that it was clear that Robinson has a lot of fans among both teammates and coaches.
This means Briscoe could be fighting it out with Hankerson to remain with the team, which doesn’t bode well at all. The Redskins have much more invested in Hankerson than Briscoe—and with four tight ends it’s entirely possible that Shanahan will carry just five receivers this year.
That also fails to take into account newcomers Devery Henderson, Skye Dawson, Donte Stallworth, Chip Reeves, Nick Williams and Lance Lewis. It’s a crowded receiving corps and Brsicoe’s window of opportunity is much smaller this time around.
It would be a shame to let him go, however, because he has so much potential.
He showed a lot of ability in the preseason last year, hauling in touchdowns in consecutive games and adjusting his routes to catch underthrown passes. He looked sharp and committed, showing awareness and intelligence in his routes. He has vital NFL experience and has also been consistent in the past.
At 6’2” and 210 pounds, he is a viable red-zone threat, proved by his six touchdowns from 35 receptions in 2011. He led the Buccaneers in touchdowns that year, but he is yet to replicate that in any meaningful game with Washington. After dropping a couple of passes in 2012 it seemed that Shanahan didn’t trust him enough to put him on the field. That’s not easily repairable.
Briscoe can be strong and tough in coverage, using his size to make the difficult catch over the middle and come down with the ball. This is something that troubled Hankerson last year, so Briscoe needs to fight for everything he gets.
After Robinson’s two long TDs against Philadelphia and Dallas, defenses wised up and he saw more attention from the secondary. He didn’t catch another ball for the rest of the season and wasn’t even targeted. Briscoe’s physical attributes give him the advantage here, so he has to make use of them.
His routes need to be sharp and he has to explode off the line of scrimmage, getting open by sheer force of will.
His quiet camp hasn’t helped him much, but he’ll definitely see the field as the coaches start to make their final assessments. He’s been kept around for a reason but absolutely has to turn his promise into production.
The issue of special teams also rears its head.
Assuming that Robinson makes the roster—which seems almost certain at this stage—he will likely see time at kick returner. Briscoe offers no such versatility and the team kept him on in spite of that last year. His speed isn’t comparable to the faster receivers, so expect to see him asked to block and cover in the preseason, which could ultimately determine his fate.
Shanahan expects his receivers to block and contribute to the running game, so Briscoe’s playbook should be his best friend right now. Everything has to be instinctive—every play has to be committed to memory, every route has to be crisp, every battle in coverage has to be won and every pass has to be caught.
In short, if he isn’t the best receiver in the NFL over the course of the preseason, Briscoe could find himself moving on.