Santana Moss threw himself a big party three years ago when he turned 30 even though that’s a birthday that scares many athletes, especially those whose success is based on quick feet.
But as he turns 33 tomorrow, Moss has a bit of a different mindset. The only older Redskins are punter Sav Rocca, kicker Neil Rackers and inside linebacker London Fletcher. Speed is irrelevant for the first two and not as critical for the indestructible Fletcher as it is for receiver Moss.
While Fletcher and almost surely, Rocca, are cinches to keep their jobs and the newly-acquired Rackers is a challenger to incumbent Graham Gano, Moss is in a fight for his position in the wake of the signings of younger receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan as free agents. Then there’s Leonard Hankerson, a third-round draft choice in 2011 who had a 100-yard game as his rookie season was ending prematurely with a torn labrum in his right hip. So Moss could be Washington’s fourth receiver or even an ex-Redskin considering his $2.65 million base salary and the fact that he doesn’t play special teams other than returning punts, a duty he has seldom performed for the burgundy and gold.
“You’re going to get guys coming in year after year from college, from other teams, and when you have guys that played on the level those two guys played on, teams are going to want them,” Moss said of Garcon, 25, and Morgan, 26. “All that can do for you is motivate you to be on that same level.”
Coach Mike Shanahan neglected to mention Moss in discussing his receivers during his April 25 pre-draft press conference, his first session with the Washington media since the end of last year. If Moss felt dissed by Shanahan extolling Garcon, Morgan and Hankerson and leaving him out, he didn’t show it.
“I don’t play worried about something,” Moss said when asked if he’s concerned about where he stands with the Redskins. “I just handle what I can, handle what there is to handle, and as long as I handle my business, that’s all I can do.”
But after not ranking as Washington’s leading receiver for the first time since he arrived via a trade with the New York Jets in 2005 and with the young guns primed to make him obsolete, Moss decided to handle his business differently this offseason. He dropped 15 pounds from his 5-foot-10 frame, getting back to the 190 he weighed in his 20-something days.
“I just wanted to get back to what I do,” said Moss, who caught a career-high 93 balls in 2010 but for a relatively sedate 1,115 yards and six touchdowns. “The last four years, I’ve probably played a little heavy. Yeah, I still played at a high level, but I can tell there are certain things I wasn’t doing. I just want to get back to that.”
In other words, Moss is well aware that he averaged 15.1 yards per catch from 2005-07 when the Redskins made the playoffs twice in three seasons, but averaged only 12.7 over the last four years as Washington went just 23-41 and never topped .500.
That included last season when he missed four mid-season games with a broken hand. But even in the 12 games he played, Moss’ numbers were far from spectacular: 46 catches for 585 yards and four touchdowns. He also slipped to 4.1 yards after the catch, down about 25 percent from his 2008-10 average. Since-released receiver Jabar Gaffney and tight end Fred Davis, who also played in just 12 games, both outperformed Moss.
“I’ve just seen myself, watched myself, critiqued myself for the last three or four years, and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to do a little extra to do what I need to do,’ ” said Moss, who looked quick during the organized team activity practice that the media was allowed to watch last Monday.
With 65 more catches, Moss will rank behind only Hall of Famers Art Monk and Charley Taylor for the most in Redskins history. Only Monk, Taylor and four-time Pro Bowl pick Gary Clark have more receiving yards. But will the “little extra” that Moss has done to prepare for this season be enough to fend off Garcon and Co. or even keep him in a Washington uniform?
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin