Redskins Continue To Seek Upgrades

Keenan McCardell, right, was drafted by Washington in the 12th round in 1991 during Joe Gibbs's first stint with the Redskins.
Keenan McCardell, right, was drafted by Washington in the 12th round in 1991 during Joe Gibbs's first stint with the Redskins. (Post File Photo)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Washington Redskins returned to practice after their bye week without Clinton Portis and Santana Moss and continued their quest for more depth and production at wide receiver yesterday, signing veteran Keenan McCardell. Moss, who has a groin injury, said he could miss Sunday's game, and Portis has suffered a recurrence of the tendinitis in his right knee that sidelined him almost all of the offseason and preseason.

Coach Joe Gibbs said he does not "anticipate" being without Moss, and hopes to have Portis as well against the Detroit Lions (3-1), though neither is certain of playing. Portis aggravated the problem in the third week of the season and even after receiving treatment and resting last week was held out of practice yesterday. It is not uncommon for tendinitis to linger and flare up, and determining a precise timetable for a return can be tricky.

"We'll just kind of see how that goes," Gibbs said. "That thing probably got a little bit sore from the game" against the Giants.

Portis has been far more productive than backup Ladell Betts at this point, averaging 4.7 yards per carry with three touchdowns while Betts is averaging 2.7 yards per carry with no scores. Portis said last week that he "felt fine" after the Giants game, and the team did not list him among the injured players before breaking for the bye. Moss is a Pro Bowl performer who is among the most irreplaceable players on an offense that ranks 22nd in the league in scoring. He is one of the best deep ball receivers in the game and has meshed well with quarterback Jason Campbell, leading the team with 12 receptions through three games.

"It's a long season still, and I'm not trying to sit here and have something pretty much continue to bother me through the long year," Moss said. "I'd rather just get this thing right, man. Thus far it's feeling a lot better, so who knows what will happen later in the week."

Moss said he is "not surprised" by the team's continued search for wideouts ("We need receivers," Moss said. "I feel like the more the merrier.") and McCardell's acquisition follows a flurry of largely unsuccessful signings in recent months to try to stabilize the position. McCardell, 37, was released by Houston in training camp and signed a one-year deal with Washington, league sources said. Though slowing down, he has been productive throughout his career and, at 6 feet 1, 191 pounds, has the size the unit has largely been lacking.

With Campbell standing 6-5, the club has been trying to find bigger, more consistent targets for him since the middle of the summer, when they first brought in McCardell for a workout but opted not to sign him. The 15-year veteran ranked ninth in NFL history with 861 receptions and has scored 62 touchdowns. No other Redskins player has more than 34 receiving touchdowns (Moss). McCardell was drafted by Washington in the 12th round in 1991 during Gibbs's first stint -- he missed the season because of surgery but received a Super Bowl ring -- and has played with several members of the team, including backup quarterback Mark Brunell.

"He can contribute a lot very, very quickly, which is the reason we opted to go with him," Gibbs said. "He knows the system inside out. He comes in today and he's running routes that are quality routes right off the bat."

The Redskins are carrying six receivers -- more than normal -- but only the starting receivers, Moss and Antwaan Randle El, actually have caught a pass this season, and only seven Redskins in total have caught passes (tied for the NFL low). Receiver James Thrash is used primarily on special teams and as a blocker on running plays, and Brandon Lloyd, acquired for two drafts picks and given a hefty contract extension in 2006, has barely been on the field in recent weeks. Reche Caldwell, who played with McCardell in San Diego, was inactive for the two games after being signed, but Gibbs said, "I think he's ready to go," this week.

The Redskins' primary starting receiver designations are the "Z" -- a position Moss plays that involves lots of shifting, multiple formations and more varied routes -- and "X" -- Randle El's starting spot that is primarily a split end with more vertical routes. Al Saunders, associate head coach, said that if Moss cannot play -- which he thought unlikely -- then "the guy that would step in there would be James Thrash." Randle El also will get some practice work at the "Z" this week, while Lloyd is primarily an "X" and Caldwell began to get practice work at the "Z" last week.

"The easiest position to learn is 'X,' with less variations," Saunders said. "So usually when guys first come in they start at 'X' and [we] get him comfortable, and then give some exposure to 'Z.' "

Randle El is having a breakthrough season in the vertical game, averaging 21.6 yards per catch, flourishing in the role for which Lloyd was originally expected to shine. Lloyd, 26, started 12 games last season ahead of Randle El at the "X" before his attitude, clashes with team personnel and scant production led to his demotion. He does not have a catch this season and has just 23 receptions and no touchdowns in 18 games with the team. He is not even on the field in many four-receiver sets.

Caldwell, 28, started 14 games for New England last year, with 61 catches for 760 yards and four touchdowns but was cut by the Patriots last month.

"I know the offense pretty well and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to play this week," Caldwell said. "We'll see how it goes this week and where we're at on Sunday. I thought I was going to play last week but I don't find out until the day of the game. So I'll keep learning as much as I can."

McCardell, who started all 16 games for San Diego in 2005, said he was not bothered by the number of wide receivers on the team. He had opted to sign with Houston rather than the Redskins before training camp -- both teams were offering essentially the same one-year, veteran minimum deals and McCardell's home is in Houston -- then failed to crack the Texans' roster.

"I know we have some great receivers," said McCardell, who believes it is "realistic" that he could play this week. "But I just want to come in and add some leadership and add some plays. Being a vet, you've got to be up to speed by Sunday, and I'm in pretty good shape."

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