ASHBURN, Virginia -- After the diving catch, Washington Redskins receiver Josh Doctson jumped to his feet and celebrated, pounding his chest hard as he yelled to the stands. What he didn’t do is exhale. But no one would have forgiven him if he had.
After a bumpy start to his career, Docston had just delivered the sort of catch others had seen him make in practice. It became feel-good moment for the Redskins in their upset at Seattle.
“You can tell he’s starting to feel himself,” Redskins corner Bashaud Breeland said. “This week in practice, you can tell he’s finding himself. You can tell the way he’s bursting out of his routes, the way he’s locating the ball and finding the ball. He’s stepping into that role of, ‘I want to be that guy they can count on to make plays.’"
Another play was perhaps not as big, but also important. Earlier in the game, Doctson gained 10 yards on an out route, one of the Redskins’ staple plays. But they only run it with certain wideouts they know can beat man coverage. At six yards, he leaned in to the defender and broke back outside creating several yards of space. He gained 10 yards but by showing he can run that route and create room, it can lead to other routes. He can turn out and then upfield, with the corner biting on the out route; he can do a three-step out instead of five. Etc. It’s the sort of stem that sets up other routes.
It’s still hard to know when he'll have a big breakout game because plenty of factors are involved. However…
“From a statistical standpoint, people are waiting for him to have the 10-catch for 200-yard performance and three touchdowns,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, “and I think those days are coming.”
Doctson finished with three catches for 59 yards vs. Seattle so he didn’t light them up. But he put himself in position to make a big play. And that can lead to other big plays. The 10-yard route can lead to more chances.
“Now that they’re giving him more routes, he’ll be more in tune to the offense,” Breeland said. “He’ll do damage.”
Like a rookie
Part of Doctson’s early lack of productivity -- 11 catches, 189 yards and three three touchdowns -- stems from being more like a rookie. It’s hard to understate how much he lost by practicing only a couple weeks his first year because of injuries. The 2016 first-round pick was always considered a good route-runner, but he had to learn how to run routes the way Washington wanted so they synched up with the quarterback.
Teammates consistently say he makes “wow” plays in practice, and the confidence level in him keeps increasing.
“The biggest help has been to have plays where we go out there and we run routes and we talk about the coverage and what I need from him and what I want his route to look like,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “And then he can tell me the same thing and we can talk about it.”
The lessons are ongoing.
“Every time I throw him the ball, I learn more about how to be more consistent with him and how to get him more and more involved,” Cousins said. “And he learns how to get the ball in this offense and what he needs to do to keep showing up. As we continue to play, I’d like to think that we’ll keep getting better and better. But, I don’t, by any means, feel like, ‘Oh, now we’ve got it figured out.’”
But, Cousins said, it extends beyond the pass game. Doctson had to learn where to fit in certain run blocks; what they wanted the motion to look like.
Not one and done
Not all issues stem from Doctson’s newness. There have been times in games where he’s broken free and either wasn’t part of the progression or not seen. Other times, Cousins appeared to work too quickly away from him or not give him a chance downfield.
Sometimes, Doctson has been unable to make a tough but makeable catch -- against Kansas City; a diving one vs. Dallas. Sometimes it’s not selling a fake well enough. But he does learn: Against Dallas, he showed patience off the line then widened the corner with a plant outside and cut back inside to catch a 1-yard scoring pass.
“He pays attention to detail. He has to experience it and see it himself so when he sees it, it becomes easier and easier,” Redskins receiver Brian Quick said.
Doctson displays a fire on the field, but can be a quiet guy in the locker room, engaging with teammates but not loud or boisterous. He declined to be interviewed for this article. Even Cousins admitted he was still getting to know Doctson, but called him a “good person; an intelligent person.”
“He isn’t as aloof as he comes across when you get to know him. He is a student of the game on the field. He wants to do it right. He is not a know-it-all,” Cousins said.
The quarterback delivered a message to him shortly after his diving catch.
Cousins said he told him: “‘Let’s make sure this isn’t a one-and-done thing. Let’s make sure this is a repeatable thing and something that people expect to have happen not just next week, not just this season, but hopefully for seasons to come.’ That’s where the vision needs to be and then we have got to work in a way where that can become a reality.”