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Coaches Not Surprised By Hankerson's Start

Posted Oct 2, 2013

Washington Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson has begun his all-important third year in the NFL with his best start yet--but don't expect his coaching staff to be surprised.

The National Football League is full of receivers that are big, fast and strong.

What separates the average from the elite is a mentality; a mentality that can turn a 5-yard catch into a 25-yard gain.

Wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel spoke to the media on Tuesday how third-year pro Leonard Hankerson has come into this season with improved work ethic and a new mentality.

“He has had a mindset since minicamp where he is attacking the football,” McDaniel explained. “He has gigantic hands, 10.5-inch hands. When you combine that with an aggressive mentality, he has caught the ball the best since he started here.

“He has been more focused on attacking the ball and it has paid dividends.” 

Hankerson has always had the physical tools to play at the highest level, but now it’s about using his talents to help the team sustain drives and solidify the No. 2 receiver position.

Through the first four games, Hankerson has developed into a go-to target for quarterback Robert Griffin III.  He is second on the team with 12.3 yards per catch.

According to ESPN stats, 10 of his 15 receptions have resulted in a first down. That makes a huge impact for a team that has only converted 32 percent of 3rd-down opportunities this season. 

As in most things in life, success breeds more opportunities for success, and Hankerson has been happy to prove his worth.

Over the past two games Hankerson has played over 60 percent of the snaps, despite being listed as a secondary option on the depth chart. He is currently No.2 overall in snaps and he is poised to have a big year.

"Hank has always been one our best guys in terms of separation," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "That’s usually the first thing you look for in a receiver.

"Consistency with him is what held him back and he has been consistent these past few weeks. I think the results are showing."

If he can maintain his fast start, he will finish the year with career highs at receptions (60), yards (740) and touchdowns (eight).

“The thing of it is, we have a lot of capable offensive options,” McDaniel said. “If he is getting more receptions that means that we as an offensive staff have decided that he is the right person to put in those positions. Offensively you need to be able to distribute the ball and that helps all phases of the game.

“All that means is he has done everything we have expected from him and more.  It can only help if he can get those type of numbers.”

Hankerson starred in the Redskins first victory last Sunday, catching a key pass in the third quarter.

Down 14-10 and faced a 3rd-and-3 on Oakland’s 29-yard line, Hankerson caught a drive-saving, 17-yard pass for the first down. Three plays later, the Redskins scored the go-ahead touchdown and their first second-half lead of the season.

"He’s got some big-time skill," head coach Mike Shanahan said of Hankerson. "He’s got things that you look for in a wide receiver and he’s taken advantage of his opportunities."

McDaniel further praised the play and the player on Tuesday.

“He has been doing a great job, he made an outstanding third-down conversion for us this past week,” he articulated. “That can be attributed to his instincts, feel and game preparation. The moment is not too big for him.

“We expect great things from him and even more growth because his ceiling, he hasn’t even grasped yet.”

If Hankerson can seize a full-time slot in the starting lineup, he can also alleviate pressure off top receiver Pierre Garçon to move the football. With his hot start on the other side of the field, defenses will begin keying on No. 88, leaving favorable matchups for No. 85.

All of this is just part of the progression this coaching staff envisioned two years ago when selecting Leonard Hankerson with the 79th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

McDaniel, for one, believes the best is still to come for the soft-spoken receiver.

“It comes back to him having a full off season and him being able to prepare for the rigors of an NFL season,” he said. “He has come back in the best shape we have ever had him. He is playing at the low 200 lbs and he can run all day. That is a testament to the athlete he is, there is not many 6-2 guys that run like he can.

“He has done a great job in the off season preparing for this moment and he has deserved every opportunity he has received this season.” 

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