- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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RICHMOND, Va. -- I've been writing updates on every Redskins rookie throughout training camp. Today: receiver Ryan Grant, a fifth-round pick from Tulane.
What he’s learning: Well, that he can play at the NFL level. His route running has been that good in practice. But Grant will have to get used to beating corners who want to jam him hard at the line, like New England did Monday. That’s not just about him being physical; ultimately it’s his feet that have to help him win.
He’s adjusting to the physical aspect of the run game and how to block. It’s not just about size and strength for him; it’s as much about understanding angles and obstructing a defender long enough to allow the running back a chance to get outside.
But, overall, he needs to still mature as a receiver. There have been other Redskins receivers who look good in practice but in games don’t show up. Taylor Jacobs, for example (though his issue often was confidence; Grant does not have that problem).
“It’s more just game situations when it comes to NFL defenses and how fast they are,” receivers coach Ike Hilliard said, “and how your reaction time needs to be different. I’d also like to see him get a few more deep balls.”
What he’s shown: Quite a lot. Grant is not a burner, which is one reason some teams were turned off by him before the draft. But he runs routes that other rookies just don’t. It happened again Tuesday against the Patriots when, in a one-on-one drill, he took an outside release, cut back inside and the defensive back guessed this was his ultimate move. But Grant planted his foot hard and spun back outside – and was open by at least 5 yards. Impressive.
Grant understands to how to press a defensive back when running a route and use the DB's leverage against them. He attacks defensive back’s blind spots – as on the previous route – and runs with a narrow base, allowing him to glide in and out of routes.
“It’s all about being able to open your hips and get out of breaks as soon as possible,” Grant said.
He really does conduct himself more like a veteran.
“The kid has unbelievable instincts in terms of route running,” Hilliard said. “He understands stems and how to work defensive backs. He has a feel for the game; great body control. He takes great angles out of cuts. He has a chance to be the complete package.”
Grant showed in college the ability to make tough, contested catches downfield and that’s showed up at times in practice. He catches the ball at its highest point whenever possible.
Also, and this is a subtle but big aspect for a young receiver, he comes back for the ball all the time. That stems from his time at Tulane.
“I didn’t have any RG III’s [Robert Griffin III] or Kirk Cousins throwing me the ball,” Grant said. “I had average to below average quarterbacks so I had to make plays on the ball. If you come back for the ball, you have a chance at making the play and being on the field more often.”
Hilliard said Grant already is learning to play all three receiver positions.
“It really doesn’t come that easily for rookies,” Hilliard said. “He pays attention to detail. He takes great notes. If a mistake is made, which there haven’t been many, we’ll put him in the same position a couple days down the road and he’ll correct it.”
What he needs to show: The ability to make an occasional play downfield and to beat higher-caliber corners. He did go up against Darrelle Revis a couple times in practice, a tough matchup for any wideout. Grant had a slant route thrown to him against Revis, but the corner broke it up after minimal separation. But the way Grant runs routes, I’d anticipate him improving. Still, most of the corners he’s facing in camp are guys on the bubble for making the roster – certainly not all, but a good amount. However, Grant is creating excellent separation against these corners, a sign that he’s ready for more.
“He’s very patient at the line,” Hilliard said, “with savvy quickness laterally that allows him to get open.”
But he still has to show it against starters, which is something that could take a little time. Even coach Jay Gruden said he needs to work on his release from the line, which is why he said, “I’m not going to go crazy right now.”
Then he said, “Overall his knowledge of the game, his knowledge of the position, understanding of route concepts and route discipline is not like a rookie – any rookie I’ve been around anyway.”
Grant also will need to show the ability to read coverages on the fly and adjust accordingly; it’s a tough adjustment for rookies.
“When you’re as smart and capable as he is to absorb that knowledge, he’ll get better,” offensive coordinator Sean McVay said.
Projection: Grant clearly will be on the 53-man roster. The question is what role he will have and that’s tough to know. He’s looked good, but he still has to prove himself more against starting corners. Plus, the Redskins have three excellent receivers who will get all the time. They have two other veteran receivers in Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss. But I have a feeling Grant will work his way into some action while continuing to develop.