by Grant PaulsenBy Grant Paulsen

For the second time in as many offseasons, the Washington Redskins will be hiring a new wide receivers coach.

Ike Hilliard is leaving Washington’s coaching staff after just one season coaching the team’s receivers to take the same job with the Buffalo Bills, according to multiple people with knowledge of his departure. Hilliard becomes the second wide receivers coach to leave the team in 12 months, with Hilliard’s predecessor Keenan McCardell having been relieved of his duties in early January last year.

Washington will now look at its options to replace Hilliard, a respected, soft-spoken, 36 year-old who was immensely popular with the team’s players.

If the Redskins stick with their recent trend of filling the coaching vacancy to mentor their wide receivers, Washington could look to hire another young, inexperienced position coach with recent playing experience. Of course the team could look to promote one of their offensive assistants as well. Regardless, Washington’s fans shouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over the team’s search for a wide receivers coach because whoever is brought in will be working alongside Kyle Shanahan to prepare the team’s pass-catchers.

Shanahan played wide receiver in college and still has an ability to think like a wide-out. He spends more time talking with and instructing the wide receivers in practice than he does any other offensive position. He can be seen running the receivers through a plethora of routes, instructing them on what they did right and wrong, at the start of almost all of the Redskins’ practices.

Part of what makes Shanahan — Washington’s offensive coordinator over the past three seasons — such a revered schematic mind is his propensity for getting wide receivers open. He stacks formations and bunches players together on the outside in attempts to help them beat bump coverage and to get free releases, frequently using motion and pre-snap movement to avoid potential double teams. But the fact that Shanahan was a wide receiver and still thinks like one is what allows him to be so hands-on in practices

With Hilliard leaving, the Redskins will have to replace him. But who they bring in may not matter all that much. Sure, they’ll have to acquire the services of an expert technician who can inform young, developing players on proper technique and route running. But the team’s next wide receivers coach doesn’t have to be an assistant who’s bounced from team to team and blown an NFL whistle for a dozen years.

Whoever the Redskins hire will inherit a quality group of players to instruct.

Pierre Garcon battled through injuries to emerge as a premiere pass-catcher in 2012. The Redskins were 9-1 in the regular season games that he started, relying on his physical play as both a receiver and a blocker down the field to set an offensive tone. Josh Morgan — signed last offsesaon — will be fully healthy for the entire season in 2013 and could be do for a breakout campaign after catching a pass in 15 of the Redskins’ 16 games this season.

Third-year pass catchers Leonard Hankerson (who can play both X and Z) and Aldrick Robinson (a blazing fast prototypical X-receiver) will serve as quality depth behind Morgan and Garcon respectively. Hankerson needs to continue to improve his hands so that he isn’t fighting footballs while running routes in the middle of the field, where he’s shown a consistent ability to get open.

Robinson, who caught 49 and 61 yard touchdowns in weeks 11 and 12 before not being targeted again the rest of the season, has to get stronger so that he can be better-trusted as a blocker. He’s undersized at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, so he’s not going to be as good at blocking as Garcon, Hankerson or Morgan — who help to form one of the league’s most dominant blocking wide receiving groups in the league. But Robinson has to be able to hold his own on the outside when he isn’t catching the football.

If Santana Moss (scheduled to count $4.5 million against the cap) comes back, than the Redskins may not have a need to add another wide receiver. If he doesn’t (the Redskins are expected to be docked another $18 million in cap space this offseason), Washington could be in the market for a traditional slot option.

Wide receiver is one of a handful of positions where the Redskins are extremely well-built and as long as Kyle Shanahan’s around, it won’t matter too much who is coaching the team’s wide receivers.


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