Zorn Tries To Whip Rookies Into Shape

Redskins rookies Devin Thomas, right, and Malcolm Kelly, both of whom are currently injured, failed the team's conditioning test at the start of training camp, Coach Jim Zorn said.
Redskins rookies Devin Thomas, right, and Malcolm Kelly, both of whom are currently injured, failed the team's conditioning test at the start of training camp, Coach Jim Zorn said. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn chided Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas yesterday for their lack of conditioning and said he anticipates the injured rookie wide receivers will have a hard time having an impact on the offense early this season.

Kelly, who has hamstring and knee injuries, and Thomas, who has a hamstring injury, were hurt early in training camp and are likely weeks from a full return. Both were selected in the second round of the NFL draft in April with hopes of immediately diversifying Washington's attack.

Kelly, 21, underwent arthroscopic surgery Monday to remove floating particles from his left knee, and Zorn said the early prognosis of a return in two weeks was "ambitious." Thomas, 21, was able to take part in limited drills in practice yesterday but is unlikely to be able to practice fully until next week at the earliest.

Neither, Zorn said, was able at the start of training camp to pass the team's conditioning test requiring players to complete a series of sprints within a certain time frame. That lack of preparation could lead to their muscles breaking down so quickly, he said. Players are required to run 12 25-yard dashes within a certain time (less than a minute for wide receivers), then rest for 60 seconds before repeating the 12 dashes.

"If you can't pass that physical test that we give, then something's not right," Zorn said. "So I've been kind of jabbing at them with that. . . . I wish I could take the test just to show everybody that I was in good shape. It's sort of a pride issue."

Zorn hinted that the satisfaction of being high draft picks may have contributed to the players' lack of conditioning, but said he did not know for sure.

"He wasn't necessarily in condition to go through a training camp like this," Zorn said of Kelly. "He really wasn't. They'll have to reevaluate their offseason program as young rookies."

Given their prolonged absences and the problems many young wide receivers have adapting to the West Coast offense and the NFL in general, Zorn said they may not be able to do much in the basic offense at the start of the season. They are falling behind other wide receivers; veteran James Thrash is putting a stranglehold on the No. 3 spot behind starters Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El.

"I've had this happen in other places I've coached, and it's very difficult," Zorn said of young wide receivers missing training camp time. "When you interview them, 'It's going to be easy.' They're going to walk around and go: 'This is nothing. I'll get this right away.'

"But once they get out there and they really see what they have to do and how exact they have to be and the speed at which they have to play and the intensity -- then I think they'll see. Now, can we get them in and work them in? Yes. Will they get up to speed? Yes. But this is valuable time."

Thomas, as Zorn predicted, minimized the impact of missing this much time. "As far as making an impact from the get-go, I don't look at that as a difficult thing to do," Thomas said.

Scouts from other NFL teams said they had concerns about both players being "brittle" or susceptible to injury. They said they believe that was part of the reason Kelly and Thomas slipped into the second round.

Thomas had one highly productive season at Michigan State before leaving as a junior, while Kelly battled injuries all offseason and had slow 40-yard dash times at Oklahoma. He also slid in the draft after coming out as a junior.

Zorn has been blunt from the onset about the challenge both faced trying to adapt to his offense from college, although both have talents that mesh with West Coast system.

Kelly injured his hamstring July 25 and also began experiencing soreness in his knee. He had surgery on his knee Monday and was not available to comment. Zorn said orthopedist James Andrews probably will evaluate him again in a few weeks before Kelly is cleared for full practice drills.

"The two-a-day practices, they were getting to him," Zorn said.

Thomas hurt his hamstring making a catch July 24 -- he attributed the injury to failing to stretch properly when he initially felt the tightness -- and since has not taken part in team drills. He was on the field in the early potions of individual drills during yesterday's two sessions but spent the bulk of the time working with the trainers on his own. There is a chance he could be back for the third preseason game, Aug. 16.

"It was tough coming into the training camp right away," Thomas said. "It was an eye-opener. I definitely will be better prepared next year." Thomas said there was a lot being "thrown at" rookies at the time of the conditioning test but conceded that's "no excuse, it's something we should have passed."

Thomas and Kelly aimed to compete for the job as the third wide receiver but have not pushed the veterans.

Thrash, an intelligent player who is supremely conditioned and can play every wide receiver position, quickly wowed this coaching staff and appears poised to play more than he did in four years under Joe Gibbs.

"When a new coaching staff comes in you never quite know how you're going to fit in the new offense," Thrash said. "But I've always taken the same approach -- even with the same coaching staff -- and I just do the best I can to open his eyes and say, "Hey, where do you need me?' "

With Thomas and Kelly out for weeks, wide receivers such as Billy McMullen, Maurice Mann and Burl Toler are getting the chance. The onus will be on Kelly and Thomas to improve with haste once they can practice.

"My hope is that the younger guys like Malcolm and Devin will actually hang around and just sort of rub up right against" Thrash, Zorn said, "and then all that stuff will just ooze onto them, because he brings a lot to the table."

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