When the Redskins kicked off the 2008 preseason against the Colts in the Hall of Fame Game, I had to chuckle when Indianapolis put its sixth-round draft choice on the field. What kind of name was Pierre Garcon for an NFL player? But maybe growing up named Peter Boy – if it were translated from the original French — made him tougher because the receiver from Division III powerhouse Mount Union was a playmaker right from the start.
Rookie Garcon and the Colts were stunned in their playoff opener by visiting San Diego in 2008. The next year, with Garcon having replaced longtime star Marvin Harrison as a starter, the Colts lost the Super Bowl to New Orleans after leading at halftime. In 2010, Indianapolis was upset in its playoff debut by the visiting New York Jets in what would be its final game with peerless quarterback Peyton Manning. With the four-time MVP injured last year, Garcon caught passes from the likes of the over-the-hill Kerry Collins and the never-was Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter.
Now Garcon is in Washington with a five-year, $42.5 million contract and the task of helping 22-year-old quarterback Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner whom the Redskins selected second overall in April’s draft. It was certainly no accident that Garcon was the target of Griffin’s first pro throw and the last three of his completions on the first NFL touchdown drive that the rookie led which finished with the receiver catching a screen, racing 20 yards and somersaulting into the end zone in the preseason opener at Buffalo. Eight of Griffin’s 20 completions this preseason and 14 of his 31 passes went to Garcon.
“We’re trying to get that communication and chemistry down,” said Garcon, one of a group of Washington pass-catchers who spent time with Griffin at Baylor during the summer break to work on just that. “It’s not where it needs to be.”
Not that anyone at Redskins Park believes that giving the 26-year-old Garcon $20.6 million guaranteed was a mistake as were the franchise’s past four major choices of receivers (signing Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El in 2006 and drafting Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in 2008). Santana Moss, Washington’s top receiver before, during, and after those moves, is 33 and no longer viewed as a No. 1 option.
“We looked at every play that (Pierre) made probably over a three-year time frame,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He has a big body, runs exceptionally fast. He can make breaks … at full speed. He’ll block. He’s competitive. He has great hands. That’s why you go out and invest the type of money we invested, but I’m very impressed with the way he’s practiced, the way he’s handled himself since he’s been here. He’s everything we were hoping for.”
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who was spoiled by working with superb receiver Andre Johnson for four years in Houston, is thrilled to have a weapon as valuable as Garcon in his toolbox.
“When you have a guy that is that talented, defenses … have to pay attention to him … (so) even when you don’t get him the ball, it helps out everywhere else,” Kyle Shanahan said.
As Garcon showed on that screen against Buffalo, he makes yards after the catch, something that Moss and since-released 2011 starting receiver Jabar Gaffney failed to do much of during Washington’s 5-11 season.
Asked what he most likes about Garcon, Griffin said, “Just his tenacity after he gets the ball. He’s very strong. He’s confident going across the middle because he knows that nobody can really punish him.”
While Moss and Randle El were waterbugs and Lloyd and Gaffney were lithe, Thomas and Kelly were physical wideouts in the Garcon mold. Trouble is that they were neither mentally nor physically tough while combining for just 68 catches, 700 yards and three touchdowns in 55 games, totals that Garcon topped in 16 games last season.
“I try to get as many yards as I can because I never know when I’m going to get the ball again,” said Garcon, who had just two catches for 13 yards in Washington’s second preseason game at Chicago and added three for 29 last Saturday against his old team.
No need to worry about whether you’ll be lucky enough to get the ball again, Pierre. You’ll be getting it plenty throughout the season.
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