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Redskins Q&A: WRs Coach Ike Hilliard Explains The Rapid Emergence Of Terry McLaurin

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In the coming weeks, Redskins.com will be interviewing position coaches about younger players who have made significant contributions so far this season. Here's who we've interviewed so far:

This week's conversation is with wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard about the rapid rise of third-round rookie Terry McLaurin, who leads the Redskins in receptions (35), yards (566) and touchdowns (5) through 10 games.

Take a look at practice photos from Wednesday's practice for the upcoming Jets home game.

Question: What have been the biggest drivers of McLaurin's success early in his career?

Ike Hilliard: It has a lot to do with how he’s wired. You can tell he had a great upbringing. The traits that were instilled in him were alpha-male traits to a degree. Terry’s very smart, and he’s gone about his business like a pro. So, a lot of guys work in this league, and he’s one of those guys who will work and is willing to go above and beyond what’s asked. If you do those things consistently and you make plays when your number is called, you’ll get an opportunity.

What were your first impressions of McLaurin?

Hilliard: You see the speed on tape. Obviously, it jumps out at you. Consistency is also something that jumps out at you, like percentage of balls thrown to catches, plays made. They have a lot of talent there at Ohio State. He was one of the guys they could count on. You could turn the film on and he was going to make a play.

When you get to the combine and you see him run around in shorts, you can see how he’s built. He’s built his body up. He has an NFL ready body, [bench] pressed 225 [pounds] 18 times. That, along with the fact that he dominated special teams at Ohio State, tells you a lot about who the kid is and what he may or may not be able to handle, because special teams is not for everybody.

I would say it’s a coach’s dream to have a guy like that, along with the work ethic and all of that other stuff. It was too good to pass up. Probably a little short about where he was drafted, but we’re glad to have him.

Q: When did you realize McLaurin could not only be a producer but a starter for this team?

Hilliard: It goes back to what I said about consistency. When you get out there, whether you’re a rookie or a vet, I think what you can appreciate about the players that are celebrated in this game, it really starts with availability and play-making ability. Terry never missed a day outside of the fact that he had an unfortunate, undercut injury. ...Outside of that he was available, he made plays, he was consistent and you could see the light come on on a daily basis with what was being coached and what was actually happening on the grass. The quicker that happens for a player, obviously the faster we’re going to put him out there and see how much he can handle, and he handled it well. And now he’s starting for this team.

Q: Is there anything in particular that stands out to you about McLaurin?

Hilliard: For me, I don’t think it’s anything specific. I think it’s an accumulation of everything about him. I think when you look at this offense since DeSean [Jackson] was here, we’ve been constantly looking for explosive plays. It's rather easy to see with his speed, with his strength, you can see the change in gears of sorts on the field, running away from guys to where we, as a coaching staff, are comfortable with the fact that he’s going to be a huge part of what we do.

I think the biggest thing coming out is based on hand placement and how the ball looks coming to him at times. A lot of people thought that he wasn’t known for ball catching, but he’s pretty much caught everything that came his way to allow coaches to have more confidence in him with how he’s going to be used going forward.

Take a look at photos of Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin through the years.

Q: McLaurin has talked a lot about his progress as a route runner. How have you seen him develop in this area?

Hilliard: There’s some things we obviously have to work on together as we continue to work, hopefully for quite some time, but he’s done a good job of transitioning. Sometimes he’s too fast in and out of breaks, and it doesn’t necessarily get him in trouble because he’s strong enough to fight through a lot of those situations and he’s been able to win. But again, consistently enough for quite some time, he’s done what’s asked and what’s necessary to win most of his 1-on-1 battles. He’s only going to get better once he continues to learn the rest of the nuances of running this offense and how to run against different players.

Q: Seemingly everyone who talks about McLaurin highlights his character, maturity and leadership. Where do you think these traits come from?

Hilliard: Starting with his parents, his parents have done a really good job. You can just tell by the way he approaches life on a daily basis, how he communicates, how well he communicates, how thoughtful his responses and answers are, how well his questions are football related. You obviously have to give credit to the coaching staff at Ohio State. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a staff with his wide receivers coach Brian Hartline. Hart has helped him prepare for that next step in this journey, which is the NFL, so I have to give Hart a lot of credit for that as well.

But he’s just built the right way, dude. Some guys get it. He was obviously a kid that had a lot of core values instilled that obviously we coveted, and it’s going to show on an every-day basis and it’s going to be a joy to be around for everybody.

Q: In terms of other NFL players, who does McLaurin remind you of?

Hilliard: From a pure speed, acceleration standpoint, the only guy I’ve been around that he looks sort of similar to is a younger version of Joey Galloway. I taught Joey from when he was an old man and that was even before he came here as a player, he was still as explosive as he was as a young player. But Terry is kind of his own guy. He’s going to be special. He’s going to get better, which is pretty good for a lot of people around here.

Q: McLaurin has been one of the best rookie wide receivers in the NFL this season, yet he was the 12th wideout taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. In your opinion, why wasn't he drafted higher?

Hilliard: They have so much talent at Ohio State, and this is only one man’s opinion, but when you look at yards per catch or the volume of targets, they have an embarrassment of riches. He didn’t run maybe as fast as one guy or maybe he was faster than another guy or maybe he did not have the amount of targets or he wasn’t featured. Who knows? What really happened is that he unfortunately lost some money and fell to us when he did. But if he continues on this path he’s going to make it up and then some.”

Q: What does Terry need to continue to work on?

Hilliard: Increasing his package at the line of scrimmage regarding releases. We know he can get off on a speed release, but based off plays, based off situations and based on the players, the speed release may not be the best option. Who we’re playing on a weekly basis. What does the guy that he’s going to see most of, what does he do well? How are we going to combat that? Just chopping wood with how you study, what are we studying, who we’re playing against, where we’re trying to attack, and then obviously letting the skillset take over once we figure out how we’re going to run it and then go from there.”

Q: What is McLaurin's potential?

Hilliard: I don’t want to put a cap on anybody, but if he can continue to be consistent with when the ball is close and he can catch it, he’ll be perfectly fine. He’ll be as good as his targets and his opportunity, and that’s all you can ask for as a wide receiver: the opportunity to play, the opportunity to get a target or two, and then if you’re presented with that opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. If you’re doing the things that are necessary to deserve that target or warrant that target, then hopefully you’ll make the play, and they usually come in bunches.

I don’t want to put a limit on anyone, but hopefully he takes off and he’ll be the most-productive receiver ever to play in this franchise. Who knows? Let’s get that and then some.

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