Weeks before training camp began, Terry McLaurin traveled to Los Angeles for a few days to work out with Dwayne Haskins. The Washington Football Team’s starting quarterback had practiced with his star wide receiver throughout the offseason, often on high school fields in Virginia.
Los Angeles was a whole different dynamic, though, and largely because of one of the other players Haskins had invited to join them: Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham and McLaurin worked together for almost two hours, catching balls from Haskins, asking for feedback and giving each other tips. More so, McLaurin watched the ways Beckham got into and out of his routes. He noticed how Beckham, a star wideout with the Cleveland Browns, ran each route as if it looked the same. They focused on the nuances of the position.
There was mutual respect, McLaurin said.
“We were just comparing notes, trading notes,” McLaurin said.
Those notes will be put away Sunday when McLaurin and Beckham meet again — this time when Cleveland hosts Washington at FirstEnergy Stadium. Two games into his second season, McLaurin is trying to follow a trajectory that Beckham knows all too well: The 25-year-old aims to become an elite wide receiver after a breakout rookie campaign.
In Year 2, McLaurin appears to have taken another jump. Coming off a seven-catch, 125-yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, McLaurin now ranks eighth in receiving yards through two games. According to Pro Football Focus, McLaurin’s catches have come exclusively between the numbers — a massive shift from last season when McLaurin caught 31 of his 58 passes on the outside.
McLaurin and his coaches have said his growth would be measured by the way he could start working in the middle of the field.
McLaurin’s success on the inside highlights another difference in his game: He’s been much more productive in yards after the catch. This year, McLaurin is averaging 9.3 YAC — fifth-best in the NFL and a dramatic increase from his rookie season (3.7 YAC).
In that way, he’s starting to resemble Beckham.
“You don’t have to throw a 40-yard deep ball to get explosive plays,” McLaurin said. “I’m trying to build on that. … (Beckham’s) run after the catch ability is something I really feel is similar in our games.”
McLaurin saw it firsthand in the summer. McLaurin noted the ease with which Beckham grabbed quick slants, then accelereated into the open field with the kind of speed that tilts games in favor of an offense.
Against Arizona, McLaurin utilized what he’d learned. From the slot on a slant route, the 25-year-old hauled in a short pass on a slant and took off — running 20-plus yards to the end zone. Before the snap, McLaurin said he knew based on the single-high safety look, all he would have to do is avoid the pursuit angle if he caught the ball.
From there, McLaurin’s speed is key. He said that too often, receivers make the mistake of hesitating and trying to dance around defenders.
That’s not his style, says McLaurin. Like Beckham, he doesn’t stutter.
“My main objective is, as soon as I catch the ball, tuck it and I see the defense and I just run,” McLaurin said. “Because everybody on that field is fast and all those defensive players are taking pursuit angles at you. So how do you defeat pursuit angles? You beat those with speed.”
McLaurin’s development is opening eyes around the league. Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury called him one of the league’s “bright stars.” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a future Hall of Famer, wrote on Instagram that the “best is yet to come for this young man” and included a picture of him and McLaurin.
Fox analyst Brady Quinn went a step further and suggested Monday that Washington needed to “exhaust all efforts” to get McLaurin the ball, citing the team’s lack of weapons around him. He pointed to the Atlanta Falcons and the way the team uses All-Pro receiver Julio Jones.
“Watch how many times and how many ways Matt Ryan and Dirk Koetter will try and get Julio Jones the football,” Quinn told 106.7 The Fan.
The fact that McLaurin is now drawing comparisons to a talent like Jones is telling.
Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner says his offense will take advantage of McLaurin when the oppoortunity is there.
“The pass game isn’t like the run game where you choose who to give it to,” Turner said. “You have options.”
Pose Quinn’s theory to McLaurin and the 2019 third-rounder will brush it aside. He said he’s not concerned with catching 10 passes early or late, nor is he the type to go storming up the sideline to demand slants or other routes be called. That’s not his job, he said.
“My job is to make plays when they come to me,” he said.
By the way, McLaurin’s 17 targets are one more than both Jones and Beckham (16).
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.