By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 8, 2007
The makeover of the Washington Redskins' wide receiving corps has occurred out of necessity. It began after the first game against Miami and may continue throughout the season in an attempt to solidify that unit.
The process took a positive turn yesterday, and the Redskins were pleased with the new-look group's contributions in a 34-3 victory over the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field.
With starting wide receiver Santana Moss sidelined for the game because of a groin injury, and fellow starter Antwaan Randle El unavailable after halftime because of a strained hamstring, newcomer Keenan McCardell and longtime Redskin James Thrash, who usually makes his biggest impact on special teams, picked up the slack.
McCardell had two catches for 39 yards, including a 20-yard reception. The veteran, in his 16th season, often was in the right place at the right time, providing a consistent target for quarterback Jason Campbell.
Thrash, who started in place of Moss, had only two receptions for 11 yards, but blocked well and also had a 62-yard punt return. Reche Caldwell, who signed in the second week of the season, was active for the first time with the Redskins but had no receptions.
Still, the presence of McCardell and Thrash appeared to help Campbell feel more comfortable. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and threw zero interceptions. His counterpart, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, completed only 16 of 29 passes for 106 yards, and had two interceptions.
Even the oft-scrutinized Brandon Lloyd contributed yesterday. He had his first reception in four games (for nine yards) as the Redskins made do without Moss and Randle El (in the second half), the only two Washington wide receivers with receptions in the first three games. Randle El, who had seven receptions for 100 yards by halftime, will be evaluated by the medical staff today according to Bubba Tyer, director of sports medicine.
After squandering a 14-point lead in the second half of a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 23, Washington's offense appeared sharper against the Lions. The strong performance of the receivers was key.
"Across the board, we've got playmakers," center Casey Rabach said. "For what Keenan did, I think that's pretty amazing. With only one week of work under his belt, and to come up with some plays for us, it was really big.
"Everybody knows James is the hardest-working guy on this team, so I'm glad for him that he made some plays today and was able to produce. With the injuries we have, with the guys we had out, we needed all those guys today."
Unable to practice after injuring his groin against the Giants, Moss was inactive against Detroit. He ran routes at close to full speed at practice Friday, and was testing his groin by sprinting and making sharp cuts before yesterday's game.
Despite Coach Joe Gibbs saying on Friday that Moss's status could be upgraded if he fared well in pregame warmups, the star receiver decided he wasn't ready, according to Tyer.
"He did feel good, he felt a lot better," Tyer said. But you want 'em to be really to play. The kid wasn't ready."
Fortunately for the Redskins, McCardell was ready to go after a brief adjustment period. He made a good impression in practice last week, running crisp routes while working with Campbell.
"Keenan plays with a lot of confidence," Campbell said. "He just comes in the game with hands-down confidence. He said, 'Hey, J, get me the ball. I'm going to get it.' He did that today, so what more can you ask from a guy who's only been here a week?"
It also helped that McCardell played the past three seasons with the San Diego Chargers, who run an offense similar to Washington's.
"Fortunately, I got the chance to come into a system that I played in for three years in San Diego, so I kind of know what they want," said McCardell, who was drafted by the Redskins in 1991 from Nevada-Las Vegas. "As a group, we all realize we have to make plays with our guys down. With Santana and Randle El out, we've all got to step up and contribute for this team."