DeSean Jackson injuries are suboptimal for the Washington Redskins. They've also spelled opportunity for other wide receivers. Rashad Ross took advantage during the preseason. With Jackson out the next 3-4 weeks following a Week 1 hamstring injury, another opportunity for Ross comes Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. How big of a role the receiver and kick returner will have as the Redskins look to avoid an 0-2 start is the question.
Don't tell Ross preseason games are meaningless. The former Arizona State product led the NFL with 25 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns, numbers that helped lead him to a spot on the Redskins 53-man roster. Washington's sixth wide receiver watched the season opening loss to Miami out of uniform as coach Jay Gruden passed on having Ross active. That won't be the case this Sunday against St. Louis, not after Jackson pulled his hamstring during the first quarter against the Dolphins while in pursuit of a deep pass from Kirk Cousins.
Take away Jackson and you take away Washington's one proven deep ball threat. Andre Roberts is the veteran on hand, but the Redskins would be wise turning to their kids. Ryan Grant and Jamison Crowder provide specific help and depth, but neither player possess the same skill-set as Jackson. Thats where Ross comes in, in theory. Sure, he's fast, but simply labeling Jackson as fast criminally underates his entire package. I went back to the preseason film and re-watched all of Ross's snaps. Here's what I saw:
This might surprise some, but the route Ross ran the most in preseason was the hitch or "thunder" route. Now a hitch is typically a route designed to go seven yards and reduce to five yards coming back to the quarterback unless isolated like above where then it's go as far as it take to get the CB to turn his hips then make your break. Ross on the hitch route above.
The CB turns his back to the QB and opens his hips up-field. At that moment, Ross breaks off his route and comes back to the QB.
Rashad's timing and quick break combined with the timing of his QB gets him the ball here where he has room to turn around and get some YAC. It's not the field-stretching some are looking for but if you follow my work, you'd know this is a very important route in coach Jay Gruden's offense. Ross ran this many times.
Ross doesn't create as much space on this one but is still able to make the catch.
Here's a hitch route with a little bit different result.
Ross got open as he had on all the above examples, but Colt McCoy read the other side of the field first. With pressure in his face, McCoy is going to scramble to his left towards Ross.
As McCoy heads left, the CB covering Ross tries to cut him off. Ross takes this opportunity to head up-field.
McCoy throws a back-shoulder pass to Ross who turns around and grabs it. The CB had no chance here.
Not exactly the field stretching most want to see in a DeSean Jackson replacement but it's good to see Ross effectively run an important route in this offense. If the hitch route upset some, they aren't going to be much happier to know Rashad's second most frequent route was a slant route.
Here we have a slant route against a Cover 1 man coverage. A "robber" safety is shifting into the box on Rashad's side as the ball is being snapped.
Ross does a good job separating from CB at the top of the route. The safety is crashing on the route quickly.
Ross doesn't allow the crashing defender to rattle his concentration as he makes the catch and falls up-field. Suprising toughness by a guy who is only 181 pounds.
Redskins have Ross running a slant route in the red zone here. The CB is playing a bit off. That is important.
It appears Ross was a little excited to try for a touchdown here as he doesn't really sell any route except the slant and doesn't really push it up field so the CB can sit and just drive on the slant.
When the ball is delivered, the CB drives on the route and goes through Ross and knocks the ball away. This is a negative as he doesn't have the size to box out defenders.
Gruden/McVay give Ross another chance to make up for his previous mistake by calling for another slant.
This time Ross is much more technically sound. He gives a good outside move that freezes the CB right before he swim moves back to the inside where there is no help.
Ross makes the catch in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
Here is another slant vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. The CB is in press coverage.
Ross wins at the top of the route again. He creates space and swim moves back inside. McCoy already in throwing motion.
Ross again shows no fear of going over the middle. The ball is thrown behind him but he makes a good adjustment and makes a body catch to secure it.
Not that this is relevant to Ross but ball placement can be so important. Watch where this ball is in comparison to the last throw. Same route vs. same team.
The CB bails on this one but Ross eats up his cushion to make him sprint up-field faster then Ross makes his break.
This ball is out in front allowing Ross to catch the ball without slowing down. Ross makes a nifty move in the open field to get the blockers at the top of the screen into the play.
Ross, who was seemingly surrounded in the last screen cap, ends up with a touchdown on the play. Great route, great throw, great move, and great stretch for the touchdown. Creating yards in space is another aspect of Jackson's game that will be missing. Can Ross create in space as well?
Create in space:
At the line of scrimmage, McCoy has the option to hand the ball off or throw it to Ross at the bottom of the screen on a "stay pass" or "smoke screen" depending on the coverage. McCoy sees that the CB is playing off so he decides to throw it to Ross.
Ross catches the ball at the 11 yard line and the CB is at the 5.
Ross makes a move and gets down to the 5 yard line. I'd say he won that match-up.
Once again, McCoy has a hand-off/smoke screen choice. McCoy takes the smoke screen.
Ross catches it at the 11-yard line with the CB five yards away.
Ross makes a move and gets taken out near the first down marker.
Here is a motion Alley screen. Ross has a blocker in front.
The lead blocker actually misses his block but Ross makes a great move to slide by him and then heads up-field.
Ross does a good job setting up his blocks and getting the most out of them here. The play that started on the 22 ends up on the opposite 40. Great play. We've seen hitches, slants and screens but those all are within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Where is the field stretching? Can he make track the deep ball or scare defenses?
Here is Rashad Ross on a fly route. The Cleveland Browns are in a Cover 1 man and the CB is pressing Ross.
When the ball goes in the air, Ross doesn't really have a step on the WR. In addition, the single high safety has read the QB's eyes, the route, and is heading over.
Ross doesn't come down with the ball and doesn't have a chance. This can't be expected of Ross but this is an underrated part of Jackson's game. Even at his size, Jackson is getting better at coming down with these balls.
Here is Ross on another fly route. McCoy is going to get flushed out of the pocket by pressure.
Before McCoy runs out of bounds, he sees Ross has a step on his CB and launches a deep ball.
As you can see, Ross clearly had a step but the ball was underthrown. Ross turns around to try and track the ball.
Ross goes up to meet the ball and catches it against his body through the CB.
But on the way to the ground, the CB is able to punch the ball out when they make contact with the ground. They were probably falling out of bounds anyway which will be something else to work on, but you want to see Ross hold on to that ball.
Here is Ross on another fly route. This time at the bottom of the screen. Jaguars in a Cover 1 press man.
Ross beats the CB off the line and gets a few steps on him. McCoy delivers a good ball this time. Ross does a good job with his field placement; giving McCoy enough room to fit the ball in between him and the sideline. We've seen a few body catches in this breakdown. Is Ross a body-catcher?
Here is Ross on a Deep Curl route. It's 3rd and 16.
Ross runs the route a little short, but does a great job high-pointing a high throw. QB might have been expecting him deeper.
Here is Ross on a deep cross.
McCoy is pressured immediately so he scrambles to his right.
McCoy delivers the ball when he sees Ross.
Ross high points the ball and makes another good catch with his hands extended away from his body.
On this play, Ross basically has a dig across the back of the end zone. The Lions are in a Cover 4 or Quarters.
The CB passes of Ross to the inside defender, who it turns out is distracted by the tight end who is already double covered. This opens a huge hole in back of end zone. Kirk Cousins sees it.
Not a completely clean catch, but Ross pulls this one in with his hands as well.
How about a rub route 15 yards downfield? Ross is at the top of the screen and makes a good move right off the line of scrimmage to get to the inside for his deeper crosser. Evan Spencer on the one that's a little more shallow.
The defender identified is already out of position, Ross is just going to blow right by him.
Here's irony for you: Rashad Ross and Evan Spencer were battling for the last WR roster spot. Spencer suffers a concussion during this "rub" which opened up a touchdown for Ross. Ross pulling away from defense here.
They say the hardest catch to make is the easy one so some players will panic and try to body catch this kind of pass. Ross again reaches out and meets the ball. Encouraging.
Here is another deep crosser by Ross.
Ross has the concentration to catch the ball with his hands away from his body and gets both feet inbounds.
Here is Ross with another stretching hands catch while getting his feet down inbounds. It appears safe to call him a hands catcher.
At 181 pounds, Ross obviously lacks bulk and size. There are several receivers in the NFL who currently play bigger than their size. DeSean Jackson being one of them. He uses a second grear that creates him separation he wouldn't normally have. Let's see what Ross does on some of these plays. Here, Ross is running to the back pylon. Either Ross passes the CB and the QB aims for the back pylon or Ross doesn't pass the CB and it becomes a back shoulder throw.
The CB stays over top of Ross so it becomes a back-shoulder throw.
Ross tries back for the ball but just can't reach it. A reminder that his catch radius isn't going to wow anyone.
Here is Ross in the slot on a Spot route. Spot route is basically as it sounds. Find a spot in the zone and sit down. It it's man, work out like a Jerk or Zipper route.
The defender gets real physical with Ross at the top of the route.
The ball is thrown and knocked away. Your reminder that Ross isn't going to box too many people out.
Here is Ross on a fade to the end zone.
Ross takes a hard jab step inside to get the CB to bite as he fades to the back of the end zone. McCoy getting ready to let the ball go.
The ball is just out of reach of Ross. This is where a 2nd gear becomes useful. I've seen passes I thought DeSean Jackson had no chance at but managed to get underneath it just enought to secure a catch.
Besides a Play-Action Post and a few quick outs that pretty much sums up Rashad Ross the prospect. A light, speed receiver who is a relatively good route runner and has good hands. Keep in mind, none of the work from above was against starters. Ross will have to be more disciplined in his route running as he will see an upgrade in opposition if he steps on the field this Sunday.
DeSean Jackson is a special talent so replacing him is a next to impossible task. His ability to track the ball in the air and hit that 2nd gear is what scares defenses. Not to mention his production while teams gameplan to stop him. You don't become a field-stretcher just by being fast. If so, there'd be a ton of unemployed WRs who run 4.37 back on the field running straight lines to open stuff up for others. It does not work that way.
You need to earn respect on the field. You gain respect by beating the man ahead of you. Then beat him consistently. Then beat him when they try to give him help. Rashad Ross definitely has a good base to work with. It's no surprise DeSean Jackson took him under his wing last year, worked with him this off-season then supported him this pre-season. He sees something in him. Maybe he sees himself.