In Their Words: Banks on Gardner

After four games it's clear: Rod Gardner is Washington's preferred receiving target. Quarterbacks have thrown him the ball 29 times, six more than presumed No. 1 target Michael Westbrook. Gardner leads all rookie receivers with 13 receptions.

Yet Gardner's rookie season is filled with starts and stops. He fumbled and dropped a pass at New York, two crucial plays that might have made a difference. And he dropped a deep ball against Kansas City.

In some ways he's a typical rookie. And that's what quarterback Tony Banks says. But Banks also says he needs to be more than that.

''I've been around some rookie receivers, like Eddie Kennison. Something I've noticed with rookie receivers, especially high draft picks, they come in thinking they'll be jumping over everybody just like they did in college. He's one of our biggest downfield threats now.

''I told him, 'I can't have you playing like a rookie. I can't have that when you're the best receiver we've got.' When he had that drop against Kansas City, [people] said it was because he's a rookie. But I told him I can't have that. He's stepping up to the challenge.

''I noticed Rod running better routes this past game, coming off the ball harder. That goes with the whole offense. If our effort is more and the young guy sees it, he has more effort. That's all he needs now. It's just being able to learn right now. Things are tough, we're not getting the ball downfield and we're not sustaining drives. But we still need him to step up.

''When I first got here he seemed to take plays off in practice, but since I've been a starter I've seen a definite improvement. He believes he'll get the ball more often and right now he's my favorite target.

''[On his fumble versus New York], Michael Barrow was on the line of scrimmage and he broke on the ball. I'm sure the next time Rod will catch that same pass and he'll keep an eye on him. In college, he could catch that slant and go for a touchdown. Here you're never safe.''

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