Campbell Sees Improvement in Thomas

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas took a big step in last Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said yesterday.

Although Thomas had one reception for seven yards, "he was in there competing," Campbell said. "I feel like he was kind of getting a grasp of the NFL, getting a grasp of what it's like running routes against corners in this league. He was a lot better, so that's good to see."

Thomas -- the Redskins' top draft pick -- has struggled with routes and learning the playbook. Coach Jim Zorn was critical of Thomas and fellow rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly for their poor conditioning at the beginning of training camp, and veteran wide receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El have encouraged Thomas to improve his study habits.

With Kelly inactive against Arizona after injuring his ankle and veteran wide receiver James Thrash recovering from a high-ankle sprain, the Redskins "really tried to get Devin the ball," Campbell said. "We tried to get at least five balls to him." Thomas also had one rushing attempt, an end around that gained 16 yards.

Thomas twice was called for pass interference while battling Arizona's cornerbacks for deep balls along the sideline, and what would have been his first career touchdown reception was called back because of a penalty called on right tackle Stephon Heyer.

"He also ran a wrong route once, which was just a rookie mistake, but you definitely saw some good things from him," Campbell said. "We've been bringing him along, working with him and trying to get him ready, because we're definitely going to need him."

Avoiding pass interference penalties has been added to Thomas's long to-do list, he said. "It's just a situation where I've got to be relaxed," Thomas said. "When you've got the ball coming and you've got somebody near you, you just want to push 'em and get 'em out the way. It might help [me to] not really do nothing until the ball is right there, then just explode to the ball and throw the defensive player off."

In college at Michigan State, "a lot of the corners, a lot of times, weren't that close to me," Thomas said. "I was able to get away without having too much contact. When I've got somebody up on me, I'm so aggressive I tend to use my hands.

"I know it's something I have to stop, but this isn't something I can really learn from watching the veteran guys. 'Tana, he doesn't have to do that. 'Tana's so quick, he just uses his feet to go by guys. It's something I'm going to work on" in the offseason.

Practice Makes Perfect for Rogers

Cornerback Carlos Rogers, whose key interception in the fourth quarter set up Washington's go-ahead score against the Cardinals, credited one of Zorn's drills with helping him make the big play. Nickel cornerback Leigh Torrence tipped quarterback Kurt Warner's pass high, and Rogers caught the ball and returned it 42 yards to the Arizona 15-yard line.

Two plays later, Campbell and Moss combined on a touchdown pass that gave Washington a 24-17 lead. Rogers, who dropped many would-be interceptions during his first three seasons in the league, was part of a drill recently in which Zorn threw balls to the defensive backs at different angles.

Although it wasn't a tip drill, "every drill that you can get a ball on your hands helps," Rogers said. "Then, you've got to take it to the games."

Despite Rogers's low interception total (he has five in 38 career games), "he does have good hands," strong safety Reed Doughty said. "I keep telling people I think he does have good hands because I've seen him catch balls in practice. Sometimes it's just about getting that confidence in games.

"When you get that one in games, like he did, you can get that monkey off your back. It helps get people off your back. He made that play and he can catch more balls. He's going to get some opportunities."

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