Redskins tight end Jordan Reed literally lived the “learn to walk before you can run” idiom this offseason while recovering from toe surgery on both feet. That the saying also applies to his production in Washington’s passing attack is an unwanted coincidence.
Injuries are the norm for Reed, who played a career-low six games in 2017 due to hamstring and toe issues and missed 16 over the previous three seasons. Part of his get right plan entering the 2018 campaign involved surgeries to remove the sesamoid bone in each of his big toes.
Typically such stories in the public domain begin with the news and a recovery timeline and then fast-forward to the return. Reporters and fans don’t live the day-to-day recovery struggles, where the mind must push the body and frustration set up shop.
The surgeries were staggered during the winter months. During those trying days, or rather “three to four months," Reed couldn’t walk.
“At one point I had a boot on one leg and a scooter on the other. I had that going on for a month,” Reed told NBC Sports Washington earlier this season. “Then I had two boots on both feet. Then one boot came off, but other one stayed on for a long period of time.”
Not walking meant no driving for at least two months. Think about having a hankering for a pint of ice cream or some other fare from the grocery store. Completing the routine task isn’t something one contemplates beyond choosing Neapolitan or Rocky Road. When dealing with boots and a scooter on surgically repaired toes, even the most basic activities become challenging without assistance from others.
“Independence, I didn’t have it,” a contemplative Reed said.
Self-sufficiency isn’t something any NFL player is afforded in the ultimate team sport. Watching 11 men blend cohesively for success is among the joys for both the viewers and participants. Those watching the Redskins passing game recognize the pieces have not truly synchronized. Washington, which relied heavily on running back Adrian Peterson during its wins, ranks 24th in the NFL with 222 passing yards per game.
Reed’s only touchdown came in Week 1. He has yet to top 65 receiving yards in any game this season or 40 in four of the last five games. The overall numbers (33 receptions, 340 yards) are tracking with his good-not-great 2016 totals. There also hasn’t been a breakout game.
“It’s like a bike. For a bike to go, to pedal, all the components associated with the bike have to be working appropriately,” fellow tight end Vernon Davis said. “Sometimes Jordan is not going to have the season he’s had a few years back. That’s how it works.”
The good news is the 2016 Pro Bowler has not missed a game yet for the 5-3 Redskins. Reed participated lightly during training camp and skipped the entire preseason, thus missing valuable chemistry-building time with new quarterback Alex Smith, but took the field for Week 1.
At times his movement and route running reminds one of the player who set career-highs with 87 receptions, 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. The box score numbers do not.
“There are a lot of factors involved in that,” Coach Jay Gruden said of Reed’s light statistics. “It's not because he's not playing well. It's not because the quarterback is not looking for him. It's just the opportunities probably haven’t presented themselves and when they have, we didn’t connect for whatever reason. …We're not worried about fantasy football stats. … we've just got to get the ball to the right guy."
Having healthy guys is the most basic of concerns in Week 10. The Redskins will play without three starting offensive linemen Sunday at Tampa Bay. Deep threat Paul Richardson landed on injured reserve this week. Playmakers Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder remain uncertain with injuries as Washington clings to it NFC East lead.
The mounting ailments put into doubt how much longer it can fend off second-place Philadelphia or whether a .500 season is still possible. Reed finding his step with the passing game would ease minds. It’s not all about his individual work. It’s also not set in stone that current statistics indicate future results.
“You just adjust. It’s not about how you start, but how you finish,” said Davis, a former Pro Bowl player whose experienced significant production swings during his career. “We don’t know how [Jordan is] going to finish. He could be MVP in the postseason. You never know. You just have to keep pounding away, keep working. You might not always have the level of success you’ve had in the past, but it will come.”
That’s certainly the hope for Reed and the Redskins as their second half of the season begins. Time for walking is over. The sprint to the finish line starts Sunday.
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