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Redskins Pay a Visit To Kelly, Merling

By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 25, 2008

The Washington Redskins attended the final workouts of wide receiver Malcolm Kelly and defensive end Phillip Merling -- among the top players on their draft board -- at their college campuses yesterday while continuing to pursue trades for an elite wide receiver before this weekend's NFL draft.

A large Redskins contingent that included owner Daniel Snyder; Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations; new coach Jim Zorn; assistant coaches; and quarterback Jason Campbell first traveled to South Carolina to evaluate Merling at Clemson. The group then observed Kelly, a former standout at Oklahoma, in a private workout for Redskins personnel in Norman, Okla.

The Redskins have tried to trade their first-round pick, the 21st overall, for a top wide receiver, hoping to package the pick in a deal for Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals or another proven player at the position. Despite being rebuffed in their attempts to acquire Johnson and the Arizona Cardinals' Anquan Boldin, Snyder and Cerrato are determined to provide another high-profile target for Campbell and still might try to trade for Roy Williams of the Detroit Lions, according to league sources.

Washington's pursuit of Johnson or another standout wide receiver is expected to continue until the Redskins use the first of their nine picks in the two-day draft. With 20 teams selecting ahead of Washington, Cerrato acknowledged it could be best for the Redskins to trade down in the draft because the top players they have targeted might be off the board.

Cerrato has offered the 21st pick to teams selecting right behind the Redskins in the first round and those with high picks in the second round, "but you have to have a team that's willing to trade with you," Cerrato said earlier in the week. "You talk and you see if you can find a match, but it's not totally up to you. Do we think we can get a player there [at No. 21]? We definitely can get someone there to help the Redskins, so we feel good about keeping the pick, but you always have to see what's out there, and if there's something that makes sense for the Redskins."

If Snyder and Cerrato fail to acquire the type of veteran wide receiver they are seeking, they could select Kelly. He is listed at 6 feet 4 and 218 pounds, which would make him the second-biggest wide receiver on the roster behind Anthony Mix (6-5, 235). Cerrato has said he would prefer to provide a larger target for Campbell as Washington transitions to Zorn's version of the West Coast offense, and starting wide receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El each are 5-10.

The team recently hosted Kelly on a visit to Redskins Park, traveled to Oklahoma to attend one of his previous workouts and spent time with him again yesterday. Stan Hixon, Washington's wide receivers coach, watched Kelly run routes as Campbell threw to him, sources at the workout said. Campbell apparently was impressed, telling Kelly he would be comfortable with the Redskins selecting him, a source said.

Washington is eager to get younger on the offensive line because of age and injury concerns, but it appears doubtful that top prospects such as former Virginia guard-tackle Branden Albert (6-6, 309) or former Vanderbilt tackle Chris Williams (6-6, 315) will be available. Of course, the Redskins could try to trade up to have a chance at selecting Albert or Williams, though such a move could prove to be even more difficult than trading down.

Kelly is second on the Sooners' all-time list with 2,285 yards receiving and fifth with 144 receptions. With 21 career touchdown receptions, Kelly is tied for seventh in Big 12 Conference history.

Although he has had disappointing performances in the 40-yard dash (he posted times as high as 4.69 seconds in workouts this month), Kelly is considered to have good hands and was one of the top performers for the talent-rich Sooners. If the Redskins keep the 21st pick and Kelly is off the board, they also hold wide receivers Jordy Nelson (6-3, 217) of Kansas State and Limas Sweed (6-4, 212) of Texas in high regard.

An ideal scenario could have the Redskins drafting Kelly if available in the second round -- he has fallen on some draft boards in part because of slower 40 times and perhaps for his petulant reaction afterward -- and selecting Merling at No. 21 if they keep their first-round pick.

Merling (6-5, 272), recovering from sports hernia surgery, impressed in a 45-minute workout, sources at Clemson said. About half the league sent representatives to Clemson, and Merling is considered "a pretty safe pick," one scout said.

Merling took injections to his groin before every game last season to play through the pain of the hernia, and the injury caused him to sit out the physical part of the draft combine, so he held his workout yesterday -- the final day permitted under NFL draft rules.

Redskins Note: The Redskins are interested in former University of San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson (6-3, 198), sources said. Cerrato plans to select a quarterback to fill the No. 3 job behind Campbell and backup Todd Collins, and Johnson's visit with the Redskins went well. But Johnson, who has been in contact with Zorn, could be off the board before the Redskins would want to pick him, probably after the third round.

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