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Redskins Get Down To The 53-Man Roster; Brandon Banks Makes The Cut

Posted by Matt Terl on September 4, 2010 – 9:04 pm

The biggest name on the list of Redskins cuts wasn’t the biggest surprise: that would be Willie Parker, and it feels like rumors about him not making the team started a day after he arrived. The most recent sign that Parker might be in trouble came last week, when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan made it clear that the team would not be keeping three running backs who don’t contribute on special teams. Today, it stopped being about rumors and signs and became official, as Parker was cut.

Also cut from the running back group was Ryan Torain, which means that your current running back depth chart reads Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and rookie Keiland Williams. I don’t know for sure, but I’d have to think that Williams’s good work catching the ball out of the backfield this preseason — 7 catches for 77 yards, with at least one (and maybe two) negated by penalties — helped his cause.

There actually weren’t a lot of tremendous surprises on the cut list, unless you were under the impression that being one of the team’s draft choices made you safe: three members of this year’s draft class (WR Terrence Austin, OL Selvish Capers, OL Erik Cook) were released, and four members of the Redskins 2008 draft class departed as well (LB Robert Henson was waived injured, LB Rob Jackson and OL Chad Rinehart were cut, and CB Justin Tryon was traded to the Colts.)

The full cut list is after the jump, but I want to stop for a second and look at what I think is the most intriguing position group, as the dust begins to settle: wide receiver. The current depth chart features veterans (Santana Moss, Joey Galloway, and Roydell Williams), the promising but unheralded Anthony Armstrong, the heralded but thus far unproven Devin Thomas, and the speedy but small Brandon Banks.

Of those six guys, only one could’ve felt reasonably secure about his roster spot in mid-April, and that’s Moss. Galloway and Williams hadn’t even signed yet, while Armstrong — as has been exhaustively recounted this offseason — has had to scratch and claw for every step on his way to this moment. Thomas’s future has seemed uncertain as well, but there can’t be anyone who would be considered a longer shot than Banks

Undrafted out of Kansas State, undersized at 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, Banks impressed during training camp, electrified when he took a punt back for a touchdown against the Bills, and has alternately dazzled and frustrated ever since, mixing impressive returns with miscues. Still he has one undeniable upside — 4.2 speed — and that seems to have been enough to convince the team to keep him onboard.

So, as Banks prepares to spend his first week on an NFL regular season roster, here’s a quick look back at how he got to this point, as seen by this blog.

1) First Impression: Here’s what I wrote about Banks when he came to the post-draft mini-camp as a try-out guy:

He’s a return specialist from Kansas State who lists as 5-7, 150 pounds. I say “lists as” because … well, for scale purposes, that’s Santana Moss in the hood to the left of Banks in the photo. Moss is a few feet farther away than Banks, so perspective makes him appear shorter than he is, and he’s not a tall guy to begin with. And Banks is still shorter than him in this picture.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that this is the shortest guy I’ve seen on a professional football practice field, by a fairly wide margin. Interested to see if he actually gets signed for a full look-see.

Oh, the irony.

2) He Gets Signed For A Full Look-See: Banks’s return seemed like a picture-worth-a-thousand-words thing, so I went videos like this one over more chatter. Also, this was the first time I invoked the comparison to to similarly diminutive K-State guy Darren Sproles.

3) More Darren Sproles Comparisons: Three things stand out from my conversation with Banks at OTAs: first, I asked if he really expected to be able to crack a pro roster given his size, and he said this:

“We’re gonna see. I’m gonna go out there and give it my best shot. I mean, there’s guys who did it before, like Darren Sproles, Wes Welker … I’m just gonna go out there and play my game like I’ve been playing it. It’s the reason why I’m here.”

Second, he shared the advice that Sproles had given him:

“‘We’re always gonna be the underdogs,’ he said, ‘and you know that. He told me to just go out there, keep playing hard, use my speed and use my talent like I know I can.”

And third, this bit of prophetic wisdom from special teams coach Danny Smith, as recounted to me by Banks:

“He just told me to keep working hard,” Banks says, “and hope I can pop one in the preseason.” By pop one, Banks means take a kick or punt back for a touchdown, and the reason Smith is hopeful that Banks can do that is because of his speed. Word in the building is that Banks’s two timed 40-yard dashes here were both under 4.4, by at least a few hundredths of a second.

4) Shanahan Chimes In: The next day, head coach Mike Shanahan was asked to comment on Banks. It’s not quite prophecy, but it’s certainly a statement with an ominous ring:

“I think he’s done a good job. He’s been an excellent returner, obviously not very big but very fast. We ran him in the forty and he broke 4.4 out here on this turf when the rookies ran. And he’s catching the ball extremely well as a wide receiver. So he’s competing right now and we’ll let time take care of itself. When he gets his opportunity in these preseason games, he’ll show us what he can do.”

5) Banks Pops One, Shows What He Can Do: Just under three months later, both those prophecies came true when Banks returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown against the Bills. And just like that, I stop writing about how small he is and start writing about his friendship with Wizards’ first-round draft pick John Wall.

“That’s crazy,” Banks said. “I remember when they did the NBA Draft Lottery, and I called him, like, ‘Man, do you know who got the first pick is the Washington Wizards?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘I’m ’bout to be there right with you!’ So we just been excited, been preparing for the upcoming seasons.”

So when Wall decided to come to this week’s game, Banks figured he’d try to work in a tribute for his old friend. “We talked about it all week,” Banks said, still clearly euphoric after the play, “‘I’m gonna do the John Wall if I score,’ and it really happened.”

Banks was also quick to note at the time that he needed to do more to be able to make the team:

“I still got work to do,” Banks said. “I wasn’t perfect tonight — I mean, I made one big play. I wanna make a couple more big plays and show the coaches that I can play on the offensive side of the ball.”

(And, lest you think that Banks is some kind of showboating glory-hound because of the dancing, here’s how he described that “one big play” after the fact: “I just ran. My job was easy. The other ten guys did their job and coach Danny Smith had a great scheme for us, so I just ran.”)

6) Banks Gets A Fan Club: That may not have been enough for Banks, but it was enough for a bunch of Redskins fans, including the Rader brothers at the Welcome Home Luncheon, who donned these homemade shirts:

“Banks’s biggest hope,” I wrote at the time, “is that athletic tape on black T-shirts and marker on white ones are just the harbinger for bigger things to come. ‘This is amazing,’ he said, ‘a dream come true. I signed the shirts, but hopefully I can sign jerseys next year.'”

That hope seems to have come a whole lot closer to reality with today’s news.

The full cut list is after the jump. Read more »

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