The injury-riddled Redskins seem to be giving young players opportunities at as many positions as possible.
Running back Roy Helu, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, left guard Maurice Hurt, center Erik Cook and inside-linebacker Perry Riley have all made their first NFL starts during Washington’s current five-game losing streak.
But apparently the Redskins’ youth movement hasn’t made its way to the slot-receiver position, where second-year wide receiver Terrence Austin has been supplanted by veteran mid-season addition David Anderson as Washington’s new top option at the gator position in three-receiver sets.
Anderson, 28, is a seventh-year veteran who spent the first six years of his NFL career with the Houston Texans. The Redskins signed him last Monday, then had him on the field for 29 plays in Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, just six days after he was added.
Austin had been Washington’s primary slot-receiver in the two games before Anderson was added. The 23-year-old former seventh-round pick was primarily a spectator last Sunday, though.
“I thought David did a real good job,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “He did good on all of his plays except for one. There was one play on third down — we needed him to make a tough catch. It was high and behind him, but definitely a catch we expect him to make and he’s got to make. Besides that one play, I thought he did a good job.”
Anderson caught one pass for 14 yards in his Redskins debut.
“Terrence had just gotten some opportunities in the three games prior,” Shanahan added. “But he’s still working and we still believe in Terrence. Just for that specific inside receiver role, we wanted to give someone else a chance. We brought David in and he did a good job.”
Anderson played in 14 games, starting just one, in two seasons with the Texans since Shanahan’s departure as his former offensive coordinator. During Shanahan’s final season in Houston, though, the Colorado State product had a career year, hauling in 38 passes for 370 yards.
Austin’s apparent demotion goes against what the Redskins are doing at several other positions. But it’s also evidence that Washington isn’t going to just give young guys opportunities for the sake of doing so. Responding to those opportunities will land you increased chances, and struggling could mean that your role gets reduced again.
While Austin had caught a pass in four straight games before seeing diminished playing time, his receiving yardage had dropped in each game since week-six. He also lost a fumble while running after the catch against San Francisco, blaming himself for not carrying the ball in the right hand afterwards.
Considering that the Redskins offense is stuck in neutral, you should expect to see Austin get more opportunities later in the season. He possesses a wiggle and an open-field elusiveness that most of the Redskins’ pass-catchers don’t have. And when you’ve only scored one touchdown in your last 33 drives and you haven’t had a lead since Oct. 2nd, guys who can make plays generally get second chances.