When Andre Roberts signed with the Redskins as a free agent last year, it looked like the former Arizona Cardinals receiver would finally get the chance to be a starting wideout, the No. 2 option in the pass game to Pierre Garçon. That plan changed when the Eagles cut DeSean Jackson, and Washington quickly moved to bring Jackson to the 'Skins. From there, Roberts was again the No. 3 receiver, just as he was in Arizona behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
A year later, and now Roberts faces increased competition, this time from a rookie. Redskins GM Scot McCloughan did not sign Roberts, who mostly works in the slot and returns punts. But McCloughan did just spend an early fourth round draft pick on Duke's Jamison Crowder, an undersized wideout that projects as a slot receiver and punt returner.
"They're always bringing guys in every year. That's only going to help our team," Roberts said of the rookie Crowder. "Whatever he can do best to help our team and help us win is good for us."
Roberts' numbers last year were underwhelming (36 catches, 453 yards, 2 TDs) but so was the whole Redskins offense. It did seem that Roberts dropped too many passes, particularly on third downs, but he did stabilize the Redskins punt returner position. Roberts returned 28 punts last season, and though he never broke any for a touchdown, he also limited the abhorrent mistakes in the punt return game that plagued Redskins special teams for a few years. It's almost a testament to how bad the Redskins punt return situation was for a few seasons that Roberts 7.4 yards-per-return average stands out.
"Our special teams the last couple of years have not been very good and it’s something we have to address," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said following Tuesday's session.
During punt return drills at Tuesday's OTAs, Roberts took the first reps. Behind him came Rashad Ross, then the rookie Crowder. Asked if he wanted to continue to return punts, Roberts was emphatic.
"Of course. I want to have the ball in my hands."
In college, Crowder was a dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands. His receiving numbers were impressive, 85 catches for 1,044 yards and six TDs, as were his punt return numbers (22 punt returns for a 12.7 yards-per-return average and 2 TDs). Just 5'9" and 175 lbs., Crowder will need to rely on speed and shift to make it in the NFL, though it's worth noting that smaller receivers have become increasingly effective weapons in modern NFL offenses. Wes Welker and Julian Edelman immediately come to mind.
"He’s got all the traits you want in a slot receiver, and obviously, he’s a heck of a punt returner," Gruden said of Crowder after rookie camp earlier this month.
At 5'11" and 192 lbs., Roberts has better size than Crowder. On the practice field, Roberts fits in with the receiver group where Crowder is the smallest player running wideout drills. During OTAs, both players made impressive grabs in both 11 on 11 and 7 on 7 drills.
For his part, Roberts said all the right things about the increased competition from the rookie Crowder. McCloughan wants competition at every position, and Roberts welcomes that.
"It's good to be back to work," Roberts said walking off the field after OTAs.
And what about the rookie at punt returner?
"That's not my decision, thats the coach's decision. Whatever is best for our team."