Redskins WR Maurice Harris' big catch, versatility should result in more chances

ASHBURN, Va. -- The text came immediately after the catch, a former Washington Redskin reaching out to say one thing: That’s what Maurice Harris has been doing in practice since he arrived at Washington.

The former player wasn’t the only one who would say that about Harris’ one-handed diving grab for a touchdown Sunday. It’s also what teammates said about him after the loss to Minnesota.

“That was a great catch,” Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder said. “I told him that would be SportsCenter’s No. 1 top 10. I’ve seen him make catches like that -- he had one this week in practice. We all know he’s talented.”

Now the question becomes: What can he do for an encore? And will his role increase in the offense?

Harris’ versatility all but ensures a role in the offense because he can run routes from all three receiver positions. That’s harder than it sounds because there are different responsibilities and routes from each spot. With Ryan Grant in the concussion protocol, there could be more chances for Harris on Sunday in New Orleans. If Grant is healthy, then Harris would be a fill-in guy in various packages and that versatility means he’ll get snaps.

The Redskins don’t like to use Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor together, with both being more comfortable at the X receiver spot. More time for Harris. He played 39 snaps Sunday, partly because of Grant’s injury.

“Maurice can do a lot,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s an excellent blocker in the run game. We can put him inside, outside, X, Z, whatever. He knows them like the back of his hand, so it’s great to have that comfort level with a receiver. Sometimes when guys flip positions, they line up wrong and we have to waste a timeout or what have you, so it’s good to have a guy like that. And the quarterbacks feel really good throwing to him because he’s always where he’s supposed to be.”

After his big catch on the opening series, he was rather quiet and finished the game with two catches for 50 yards. But Gruden also liked how he blocked in the run game, another key aspect moving forward for an offense that has received inconsistent blocking on the edges.

But Harris stuck around on the Redskins’ practice squad for eight games likely for the same reason he went undrafted: his speed. That was the biggest knock on him entering the draft. That still will be the obstacle he must overcome as a receiver in the long run.

Injuries at multiple positions prevented Washington from promoting him sooner, but it finally had a chance last week. Had another team tried to sign him before last week, the Redskins likely would have made this move sooner.

On his deep catch, it wasn’t so much about Harris pulling away as it was finishing with a highlight grab (that was initially ruled incomplete but then overturned).

"Kind of worked my guy at the line," Harris said. "I just reacted to it. I was surprised myself. I figured I was in, but I wasn't 100 percent sure."

But that can provide confidence for a quarterback to simply give him a chance to win on a route. Those highlight grabs date back to his days at Cal, when he made a one-handed grab on a 10-yard touchdown catch vs. Portland State. It earned him SportsCenter’s top play of the weekend.

The Redskins would love more highlight catches, but in reality would take a series of 10-yard gains and moving the chains. Last season, Harris caught eight passes for 66 yards, with three catches on third downs that resulted in a first.

“At the end of last season, he probably didn’t get as many opportunities as he or we would’ve liked,” Cousins said. “We’re excited about him moving forward ... those hands, being a natural receiver. He’s the right kind of guy. He understands the running game well, blocks well, does his job, very unselfish, just the right kind of guy for your team.”