On Monday, head coach Jay Gruden announced that receiver Paul Richardson Jr. would miss the rest of the season after receiving shoulder surgery. For an offense already struggling in the passing game, Richardson Jr.’s absence will force another pass-catcher to step up.
If Sunday’s game was any indicator, Maurice Harris may be the guy.
A career-high 10 receptions for a career-high 124 yards, Harris's performance against the Falcons was one of the few bright spots in what was a dreary day overall for the Redskins offense.
“I like what Mo’s been doing,” head coach Jay Gruden said in his press conference on Monday. “He’s a quarterback-friendly guy, knows how to work in zone, does have the quickness to separate in man-to-man. So, he’s a great option for us right now.”
On Sunday, Harris became a go-to option for quarterback Alex Smith in just his second start of the season. Though he never reached the end zone, the third-year pro played a crucial role in both of Washington’s scoring drives. A 15-yard grab late in the second quarter moved the offense to the Falcons’ two-yard line, and one play later, Smith connected with receiver Josh Doctson for the Redskins first score of the day.
In the third quarter, Harris recorded two receptions for 48 yards on a drive that eventually ended with a Kapri Bibbs rushing touchdown. One of those catches highlighted Harris’ athleticism, as he was able to highpoint the ball, corral it with one hand and secure a 33-yard gain while being covered by Falcons linebacker Bruce Carter.
“We had some verticals going deep and Alex [Smith] liked the matchup so he threw me an opportunity ball and we had to take advantage of that,” Harris said about the grab. “So I tried to make the best of that catch.”
Highlight reel catches are nothing new for Harris. About a year ago, his first career touchdown came on a one-handed grab against the Minnesota Vikings just a day after he was promoted to the Redskins active roster. Since then, sensational catches throughout training camp have shown the talent he possesses. Yet now, Harris is looking to combine that athleticism with consistency.
A combination of his health and injuries to other receivers will give him that opportunity. While he may have not started the season at the top of the depth chart, the flow of the season has thrusted Harris into a new role within the offense. As he continues to gain reps and build a connection, the Redskins are hoping he can help pick up the slack in the passing attack.
“He’s a guy that I think everyone on offense has a lot of confidence in, certainly I do. He’s a guy that can move around and we can put in a lot of positions and he can do a lot,” Smith said. “We ask a lot of him, but obviously getting to play inside here with Jamison [Crowder] out he’s done a heck of a job.”
With receiver Jamison Crowder out, Harris has filled in the slot position. However, he may not remain there for long, as Gruden mentioned on Monday that Harris could move to the outside if Crowder were to return this week. Though he looked comfortable on the inside on Sunday, he’s just as happy to line up out wide, saying he’s looking to make plays from wherever the team puts him.
No matter where he is on the field, Harris will continue to become a focal part of the Redskins’ offensive plans moving forward and look to replicate the memorable performance he had on Sunday. Though next time, he hopes his stat line helps contribute to a Washington victory.
“It felt good to go out there and make some plays. But, at the end of the day it’s tough that we lost,” Harris said. “We have to try and focus up this week and make corrections on the things we messed up on. We gotta come out and get ready for Tampa."