By Tarik El-Bashir
Last month, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said return specialist Brandon Banks also must contribute at wide receiver if he’s to earn a spot on this season’s roster.
On Sunday, Banks reaffirmed his intent to meet Shanahan’s challenge.
“I’m not nervous; I’m more ready and excited,” Banks said during his youth football camp at Georgetown Prep. “If I can get the ball in my hands, I can go the distance anytime I touch the ball. [But] I’ve got to be able to get into the right areas for the quarterback to get me the ball.”
And that, right there, is the catch for Banks as training camp opens at Redskins Park this week.
The 24-year-old is well established as a punt and kick off returner, having filled that role each of the past two seasons in Washington. Now, though, the diminutive fan favorite has about a month to prove he can run routes, overcome his size disadvantage, find openings in coverage and, of course, snag Robert Griffin III’s powerful passes, too.
There are 12 wide receivers currently listed on the Redskins’ roster. That deep corps is headlined by free agent additions Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, veteran Santana Moss and the emerging Leonard Hankerson.
In minicamp, Banks saw time at each receiver spot and impressed the coaching staff. He’s also reportedly packed 10 more pounds onto his 5 foot 7, 155-pound frame.
“My mindset is to contribute at wide receiver, show the coaches I can run a route, catch the ball and make plays without a punt return or kick return,” Banks said. “That’s my main concern. I’m just trying to get a connection with the quarterback, so hopefully I can be here this year.”
In addition to practicing his route running and studying the playbook this offseason, Banks said he also spent time at rehab facilities in Arizona and North Carolina working on strengthening his left knee, which required surgery in 2010. Lingering discomfort in the joint bothered him off and on most of last season, too, he conceded.
“I’m a hundred percent,” Banks said. “I went back to the doctor that did my surgery, and he checked me out and told me exactly what I needed.”
“I went back home to Raleigh,” he added, “and really focused on myself and my rehab. It’s back. I’m back. I’m back in full effect.”
Banks understands the daunting task he’ll face in the coming weeks. But he’s also confident that his skill set – and specifically his speed and elusiveness – will ultimately help him secure one of the 53 spots on the opening day roster.
“I don’t think nobody has an advantage,” he said, referring to the receivers he must beat out. “Guys have certain skills, certain talents. Mine is speed.”