Darnerien McCants got exactly what he wanted.
The wide receiver tied with Laveranues Coles last season for the Redskins' lead with six touchdown catches, and he entered the offseason a restricted free agent. The Redskins in March rewarded his performance with a new contract.
McCants, who was widely considered to be on the bubble for making last year's team, now feels that he has earned respect in the league and solidified his position among the Redskins' deep receiving corps.
"It's definitely a new feeling," McCants said. "Normally, I'm fighting to stay around."
A more confident McCants can now focus on improving upon his 2003 campaign. He caught 27 passes for 360 yards to accompany his six touchdown receptions a year ago.
Under Gibbs, McCants says he is learning new pass routes and skills that will help improve his effectiveness.
Said McCants: "I call him the 'Zen Teacher.' From the beginning, the stuff he says makes sense to me. Everything we do is football related. There's no asking questions about why we're doing this.
"Sometimes, as a football player, you come up to drills wondering why we are doing this. It just seems like we're not learning or working on our position. It's not that way with Coach Gibbs. There are no questions."
Learning football is still important for McCants, who began playing football only in his senior year of high school. He played tight end at Delaware State, where he also demonstrated his knack for catching touchdowns. Eighteen of his 36 receptions during his senior season at Delaware State were touchdowns. At 6-3, 214 pounds, McCants is still developing as a wide receiver and a football player.
"I'm new to football," McCants said. "I'm learning something every day. I'm trying to get myself better by learning about myself and learning about football."
Entering Gibbs' first season back, the Redskins have loaded up at receiver after trading for veteran James Thrash the day before re-signing McCants. Those two join incumbents Rod Gardner, Coles, Taylor Jacobs and others to make the Redskins' receiving corps one of the deepest and strongest positions on the team.
"Obviously, that group is going to be as competitive as anybody in camp," Gibbs said. "It's going to be hard-fought, and that's good. That normally means you get the best out of guys."
The Redskins' depth at receiver is reminiscent of Gibbs' receiving corps during his first coaching tenure. The group, affectionately known as "The Posse," consisted of Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Monk's 12,026 receiving yards are most in team history, and Clark and Sanders rank third and fifth, respectively, on the team's all-time receiving yardage list.
McCants grew up watching "The Posse" and said that while this year's receiving corps is different than that heralded group, it can be just as effective.
"I think we're just a different type of talent," he said. "We're definitely bigger than those guys. We're going to have to see how this package works out in order for us to start comparing with 'The Posse.'"
As for the competition at the position, McCants is used to it because of his status entering last year's training camp.
"It's been like that every year I've been here," he said. "It's nothing new."
Fortunately for McCants and the other Redskin receivers, the departure of former head coach Steve Spurrier won't mean a departure from the passing game. The change in coaches only means a different approach to the passing game.