Gardner catches on to offense

Rod Gardner shrugged off all the talk about small, quick receivers being the kind favored by Redskins coach Steve Spurrier. That's what Spurrier had at Florida and it's mostly what he has now. Pay no attention to that, Gardner said. Here's why: ''He's never had me,'' he said.

That's a point echoed by Spurrier and his son, Steve Jr., now the receivers' coach. And, they say, size doesn't matter when it comes to Washington's receivers. Or, at least, having a big wideout won't be a drawback in this system.

The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Gardner is the biggest of the receivers expected to play key roles for Washington this season. As a rookie last year, Gardner caught 46 passes for a team-best 741 yards.

But a different regime wanted him. And many have wondered how Gardner would fit in a scheme that often has featured smaller wideouts such as Kevin Lockett and Jacquez Green, likely to be the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers. Neither is taller than 5-foot-11 (though Lockett is generously listed at 6-foot). And Green is a couple inches smaller than his 5-foot-10 listing.

''All our players have been small and quick in the past,'' Redskins receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr., said. ''I don't know why. But Rod is extremely talented and has a chance to do well in this offense. His size helps him because he's a bigger, stronger guy. He can block better; he's tougher and more durable. He has all the assets you want in a great receiver.''

Gardner will be asked to run similar routes as the smaller guys. But his strength will be a valuable tool.

''He won't get pushed around at the line of scrimmage,'' Spurrier Sr. said. ''And his size helps him take a hit better than smaller guys. Rod is really coming around.''

Reading the secondary will pose the biggest adjustment for Gardner. Not size. In Jimmy Raye's offense, Gardner was told what route to run if the secondary reacted a certain way. They had limited options.

Now, the receiver can adjust his route even more based on what he sees. To make these adjustments, a receiver had better know the playbook. If they do, the result could be a quick six.

''This year they're going to go down the field,'' Gardner said. ''If they're playing man and there's no safety help, we're going down the field. Last year they might have still run the ball.''

Another adjustment Gardner hopes to make is hanging onto the ball more. Several dropped passes throughout the season lowlighted his rookie year. He vowed that would change this fall. And he hopes to do better than how he finished, when he grabbed 15 passes over the final six games.

''I'm not worried about that this year,'' Gardner said. ''I'm going out to do bigger things. I won't worry about what happened last year. This year I'm going to make the plays and become that real good dominant receiver.''

John Keim covers the Redskins for The Journal Newspapers.

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