ASHBURN, Va., -- He made plays early in the workouts last spring, whetting the appetite of the Washington Redskins' coaches. Then Josh Doctson started having issues with his Achilles, couldn't practice, and was never the same during his rookie season.
He's noticeable once again. In the Redskins' second organized team activity session, Doctson showed how he might be able to help the offense during the season. All offseason, teammates and coaches have singled him out. Nobody doubted his ability last year -- he was the 22nd pick in the 2016 draft after all. But the Achilles' problems limited him to two games. He's now healthy.
"He's been impressive," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "The big thing for him is the confidence in his Achilles, and I think he's got that right now. The past two days he's looked better and better. It looks like he can run down the field. He made a good catch down the sideline today and [he has] strong hands, we know that about him."
The problem last season was that Doctson twice returned after a layoff only to have the issue resurface. That's why, for now, there's some finger-crossing going on at Redskins Park.
"Now we've just got to continue to put one day after another after another," Gruden said. "If he does have soreness, we have got to taper off for him, but right now, so far, so good. I like the way he looks, like the way he runs and love the way he catches."
In practice, as Gruden said, Doctson beat reserve cornerback Dashaun Phillips down the sideline for an open grab. Later, he ran a strong comeback route against cornerback Josh Norman. However, there was one time Doctson struggled to get off the line when Quinton Dunbar jammed him. That could bear watching as it was an area scouts and analysts wondered about him coming out of college. It's not as if he's had a lot of work in this area since leaving college.
"I feel I was the most anxious one out here," Doctson said. "I was ready to have someone guard me besides the strength coach. I have to get all the rust knocked off. ... and seeing a body in front of me."
But it was clear that, with space, the 6-foot-2 Doctson was effective. On one underneath route, he showed that he could turn upfield quick after the catch.
It’s not as though Doctson was the only impressive receiver — second-year Maurice Harris caught one long ball against Norman during seven-on-seven work. And third-year Jamison Crowder continued to stand out; he’s slithery and difficult to handle after the catch. He applies pressure on cornerbacks because of his ability to catch and turn so quick. Terrelle Pryor's size stood out — he can be a deep threat because he’s fast and big. Wednesday, Norman nearly intercepted one deep ball to Pryor and Kendall Fuller broke up another.
But Doctson remains a key because he's more of an unknown, and because of the mental scars that remain from his Achilles. There was never an official diagnosis of what was wrong; but rest was the main prescription. First it was his left Achilles, injured one year ago in OTAs. Then, as the season approached, his right one started bothering him -- that's when they decided to shut him down.
Doctson said he did underwater exercises, worked with resistance bands and even saw a chiropractor to re-align his body, especially his hips, in case that was causing stress on his legs that led to the Achilles' issue. His goal was to return healthy for OTAs. Mission accomplished.
Doctson started running full speed in March, and at the end of the month tweeted that he was 100 percent.
"I'm full speed, but maintaining at the same time so I don't do too much," he said, "make sure in training camp I'm ready to go."
That's what the Redskins want, too. They did not plan to draft a receiver in the first round last year -- unless Doctson fell to them. He was the only wideout they would have considered when they drafted; they had him ranked as a top-10 player entering the draft. Instead of making plays, though, he had to sit and watch and learn from DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon; he marveled at the latter's route running.
But with those two gone and Docston healthy, it's time for him to do more than watch.
"I’m ready to show my teammates and coaches that I am worth that draft pick," he said. "It sucked not to be out there."