- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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RICHMOND, Va. -- The Washington Redskins see the talent when he runs his routes, crossing over linebackers the same way he used to fool defenders in basketball. Teammates and coaches use words like explosive and special and point out things he can do that others can’t.
They see where Jordan Reed can go. They also know he’s not there yet. The question in their minds is not if, but when. Of course, there is one if: his health. Reed missed seven games last season, six with a concussion. He had a history of durability issues in college.
There’s only one way to prove durability. There are many ways to improve your game and that’s what Reed is focused on this summer. Like last year, he’s usually one of the last players off the field -- he constantly runs extra routes or sprints following practices.
“I haven’t noticed a big difference yet in the routes,” Reed said. “I just have to keep working on that.”
But Reed has a natural feel as a route runner, which is why the Redskins liked him a year ago and still do. With the added weapons at receiver -- DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to go with Pierre Garcon -- Reed’s job could get just a little easier. And he could become a player who consistently hurts defenses.
“I’ll be able to get mismatches,” Reed said.
That’s when his talent should take over. That’s what the Redskins not only hope but believe after watching him catch 45 passes for 499 yards as a rookie; he caught 17 passes for 224 yards in one two-game stretch. Despite missing seven games, his 59 targets ranked third on the team.
They like that he can run routes from all over -- along the line, out of the backfield, split wide. The Redskins can use their three receivers aligned to one side with Reed on the other, possibly in a one-on-one situation. It gives them more flexibility in the pass game.
But it starts with his ability.
“He’s always been a natural route runner,” Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “He just gets it. You don’t have to overcoach him. He just naturally separates.”
Fellow tight end Logan Paulsen said Reed can sense what the defender is anticipating and adjust accordingly. Reed is athletic; he’s one of the Redskins' top basketball players with a killer crossover move that he has adapted to football.
"The way he can move his body and be in total control all the time is really special," Paulsen said. "He does a lot of things that receivers can’t do and that will make him so special for a long time. I have never seen anyone run routes the way he runs them. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that. He’s a special talent. He’s just wired in an explosive athletic way. You see a guy cross somebody up in basketball; he has that move. Even though you know it’s coming he still gets guys to bite. It’s incredible."
When Reed got hurt last season he was just starting to become more of a deep threat for the Redskins. That was the plan: get him comfortable on certain routes and start to expand. While they have deep threats at receiver, Reed can be highly effective here as well.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden called him a fluid athlete, perhaps not as fast as San Francisco’s Vernon Davis but speedy enough to win downfield against certain matchups. Reed can develop into a solid red zone target, too, and one thing that jumped out last season was his ability to extend for passes and run after the catch.
“He’s effortless the way he runs and very smooth and very difficult to cover and he can stop on a dime and get out of cuts,” Gruden said. “He’s very sudden, and he’s got a good feel for the zones. It’s just a matter now of perfecting his craft, both in the passing game when he has to protect and in the running game. So, you know that takes some time. He’s only in his second year and this is a new system, new terminology for him and he’s doing a good job but he has a ways to go before we mention him with the great tight ends in the NFL.”