ASHBURN, Va. -- In the midst of a competitive spring workout, Washington Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder took off for the end zone. The wideout saw safety Su'a Cravens in his path, hesitated with a pronounced stutter step and, as Cravens leaned one way, Crowder cut the other. Easy reception. The sequence demonstrates how tough he can be to handle, even in an area of the field assumed to be better suited for those much taller.
A few plays later, Crowder cut to his right, causing one defender in zone to lose sight of him. Crowder then cut back inside to an open spot for another easy catch.
Sequences like these illustrate the effectiveness of Crowder; they showcase what the Redskins saw in him last year and expect to see more of in 2017. Crowder is one reason the Redskins have remained upbeat about their receiving corps, despite the loss of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency.
Crowder will start, playing on the outside in two-receiver sets and inside when they add a third. He’ll also return punts. Redskins coach Jay Gruden joked that Crowder “can play running back if he wanted to.” Gruden likes that Crowder, despite being only 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, is a willing blocker. Jackson, safe to say, was not.
But the Redskins also like Crowder’s versatility as a route runner.
“We’ll utilize Jamison and try to get him more involved,” Gruden said. “He’s an excellent player, dynamic player. He just continues to prove every day, why we like him so much. He can run just about anything you ask him to run... He gets himself open because he’s got a great feel. He’s got quickness in and out of his breaks.”
That speed has been on full display this spring. While the bulk of the Redskins' focus this offseason has centered on new acquisition Terrelle Pryor and second-year Josh Doctson, it’s clear that Crowder remains dangerous.
“Crowder, that boy will be really good,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “His routes are clean and crisp. I enjoy watching him out there.”
And he's tough to cover for a taller corner.
“He’s so shifty and crafty, and he’s really starting to come into where he can take this offense and skyrocket,” Norman said. “Catch the ball, get upfield fast. I like Crowder.”
There’s a reason Crowder averaged 5.60 yards after the catch last season, tops by a Redskins receiver (Jackson followed at No. 2 with 4.93 yards). That goes back to Norman’s description of Crowder’s shiftiness. It’s what makes him an effective punt returner -- he averaged 12.14 yards per return last season.
That puts pressure on a corner to try to stay tight. Or else.
“A corner has to be more aware of a receiver at all times and has to play technique to perfection,” Norman said. “If you don’t break down ... once you lose him, you’re out of luck. You have to be keen on every technique you play. If not, he’ll beat you, and that happened pretty much all year last year.”
Gruden said size doesn't matter for Crowder, who is the Redskins' shortest receiver by at least two inches.
"He plays a lot longer than his size," Gruden said. "He has got really long arms. He goes up and gets balls. Sometime he plays bigger than a taller receiver because he uses his height, [and] he’s got great jumping ability and times the jumps extremely well. Some tall guys, you see, they misjudge it and they don’t jump. But Jamison, he times them perfect and makes big plays.”
Crowder must show he can handle a bigger load, if that’s what the Redskins want. In the last two seasons, he has caught a combined 126 passes. Seventy-eight of those receptions have come in the first half of the season. Sometimes it’s a matter of others being targeted more often. As a rookie, Crowder admitted he wore down, but said he did not feel the same way after his sophomore campaign.
For now, he’s just adjusting to a little more time on the outside.
“I’m doing the same things,” Crowder said. “Pretty much the same thing for me; much hasn’t changed.”