As the last few years slid by, injuries and bad luck threatened to throw Eddie Royal’s name into a forgotten well. The star wide receiver at Westfield High and Virginia Tech followed a promising 2008 rookie season with the Denver Broncos with four injury-hampered seasons that amounted to a total of just five touchdown catches. After signing with the San Diego Chargers last year, doubt was again cast on his future this August when he suffered a bruised lung and a concussion in training camp.
But by the time the first two weeks of this 2013 season were in the books, the 27-year-old Herndon native had everybody’s attention. Royal exploded for 10 catches and five touchdowns in those first two games against the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles. Though his production has tapered off the last two weeks (five catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns), his touchdown total still trails only Jimmy Graham and Wes Welker, who have each reached the end zone six times through four games.
Royal’s rise coincides with that of another former Westfield star. Mike Glennon took over the starting quarterback duties in Tampa Bay last week after Bucs coach Greg Schiano decided to bench an erratic Josh Freeman. Glennon completed 24 of 43 pass attempts for 193 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his team’s 13-10 loss against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.
The Fairfax Times conducted a Q&A with Royal over the phone Wednesday.
Question: Last year you caught 23 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. This year we’re barely into October and you’ve got 15 catches and five touchdowns, the second most of any receiver in the league. What do you attribute these breakout performances to?
Answer: I think it’s really just being healthy. I was pretty banged up last year. I got a chance to go through training camp and work on the timing and all those little things, and I think that’s really helped me out a lot this year. Just being on the field as much as I can be. I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling more like myself than I have in the past year or two.
Q: Speaking of injuries, the Chargers’ receiving corps has been reshuffling lately, most recently with the season-ending neck injury suffered by Malcolm Floyd. As someone who’s been victim to the injury bug in recent years, how do you feel when you get a chance at more playing time thanks in part to other guys getting hurt?
A: It sucks to see teammates go down because you know how much hard work went into preparing for the season. Watching how hard Malcolm worked during training camp and seeing how much it means to him, you could tell that he was set up for a big year. So it’s never good to see something like that happen. I know what it’s like to be hurt. It’s not a good feeling; you always want to be out there with your teammates.
Q: Your performances in those first two games this season brought you plenty of national attention. Do you pay attention to all the hype circulating outlets like Twitter and fantasy football?
A: I don’t pay much attention to all that. At the end of the day I have to go out there and continue to play football. I just try to focus on my job and worry about what I have to do on the field. The Twitter and Facebook and all of that, it’s great, but at the end of the day you’ve got to go play football at some point.
Q: How were you able to take advantage of the Eagles’ defense to the tune of seven catches for 90 yards and three touchdowns?
A: We just had a great game plan. We really executed the right way that game. We knew we had a lot of opportunities just with the style of game that they play. With their fast-paced offense we knew we had opportunities to make plays, more so than in a normal game. We just executed, and I happened to end up with three touchdowns that day.
Q: Your production has gone down a bit since those first two weeks. Have you noticed defenses getting after you more?
A: With our offense, you never know what guy it’s going to be. I think it’s good to have an offense where everybody’s making plays and the defense can never key in on one guy. So that’s the type of offense that I think we have. We have a lot of guys that do make those big plays. If the defense is just guarding one guy, then the next guy is ready to step up and make a big play for our team.
Q: How much more satisfying have your performances been this season considering all the injuries you’ve battled to get to this point?
A: It took a lot of work and energy preparing for the season. I busted my butt just like all of our guys did. So whenever you have success it’s great to have that feeling, but it only motivates you to work that much harder so that you continue to have that success.
Q: It took Green Bay’s James Jones, last year’s touchdown receptions leader, five games to reach five touchdown catches. It took you just two games to reach that point. Can you sustain that level of play you brought those first two weeks?
A: That’s something I haven’t even thought about. I’m just worried about winning games. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your stats look like if your team’s not winning. So that’s my one and only focus.
Q: Your Westfield Bulldogs are 3-1 to start the 2013 season. Your San Diego Chargers are 2-2. Who’s going to end up with more wins this year: Westfield or San Diego?
A: Well, I hope the San Diego Chargers. We play more games than those guys, so hopefully we can win more. I’ll still root for [Westfield] and wish the best for them, but at the end of the day this is my job and I want us to be successful.