Redskins Hope Rookies Provide More

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008

After catching a short pass from quarterback Jason Campbell, rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas gained a few more yards before he was tackled last week in the first quarter of Washington's 25-17 victory over the Detroit Lions. It was Thomas's only reception, but that was one more than he had in the previous two games.

"He took full advantage of one catch. I appreciated that," Coach Jim Zorn said. "He showed something, even though it was a [nine]-yard gain."

With many of their 2008 draft picks off to slow starts, the Redskins eagerly embrace any encouraging signs from the group. All 10 of Washington's picks made the opening 53-man roster, but few contributed in the first half of the season, and only strong safety Chris Horton has made a major impact.

Ineffective punter Durant Brooks was waived last month, and the Redskins are strongly considering putting wideout Malcolm Kelly on the season-ending injured reserve list. Guard-tackle Chad Rinehart, Washington's third-round pick, has been inactive in every game. Cornerback Justin Tryon, selected in the fourth round, often appeared overmatched in coverage during the preseason.

It would be unfair to evaluate a draft class after eight games, coaches and players said, and Thomas and pass-catching tight end Fred Davis are among the rookies who have inspired optimism in recent practices. But the depth the Redskins envisioned from their big draft class has not yet materialized, and they could be short-handed because of injuries later in the season unless several drafted players show significant improvement soon.

Many key veterans are hobbled by injuries, so the Redskins (6-2) could use a boost now as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) tomorrow at FedEx Field.

"We're definitely at that time of the year where guys are banged up, and anytime you've got rookies, you bring 'em in to play," Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. "If guys go down, we need some of these guys to step up big for us. That's the way it is."

Horton has filled a role well, emerging as the early standout of the class. A seventh-round pick (No. 249 overall) from UCLA, Horton impressed during his first game as a starter in a 29-24 Week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

"The other guys have had different hurdles to overcome," Zorn said of Washington's draft class. "Horton has been the guy that's got himself on the field. He's stayed healthy."

Filling in for strong safety Reed Doughty, who sat out because of flulike symptoms, Horton intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. Horton permanently replaced Doughty (he is on injured reserve because of a back problem) as a starter in a Week 4 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

"I was number 249," Horton said. "I don't worry about what the other draft picks, numbers one through 248, are doing right now. But I can tell you one thing: A lot of those guys are worried about what I'm doing."

Horton leads the team with three interceptions and the secondary with 38 tackles. He was named the NFC defensive rookie of the month for September. "Yeah, he's a seventh-rounder, but we saw early on he could make plays," safeties coach Steve Jackson said. "You just saw it as soon as he got here, so we're not surprised."

The Redskins' high-profile picks have not fared as well. Top pick Thomas, taken in the second round at 34th overall, has five catches for 49 yards. Davis, also chosen in the second round with the 48th pick, has one catch for six yards, as does Kelly, the third of Washington's three second-round picks at No. 51.

Thomas and Kelly were supposed to provide depth and versatility to a receiving corps that lacked a big target and a consistent No. 3 wideout last season. Kelly (6 feet 4, 227 pounds) is the biggest wide receiver on the roster and Thomas (6-2, 218) also is a big target.

Initially slowed because of a hamstring injury during training camp, Kelly underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 4 and missed the preseason. Fluid has been drained from Kelly's knee several times, Zorn said.

Kelly has been active in two of eight games. If his knee does not improve significantly during the bye week, which begins after Monday's game, Kelly's season probably would end soon, he said.

Davis is behind Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley and veteran Todd Yoder. "When you're behind a Pro Bowler like Cooley, you just have to wait your turn," Davis said. "You don't get a lot of opportunities, so you have to make the most of 'em."

Thomas and Kelly angered Zorn with their poor conditioning at the beginning of training camp, and Thomas since has been playing catch-up. Despite his lack of production, Thomas has been more involved in the game plan recently. Top wideout Santana Moss sat out practice this week because of a sore hamstring and was listed as questionable, so the Redskins could lean on Thomas more against Pittsburgh.

"We really need him now," veteran wideout Antwaan Randle El said. "Santana's got a little hamstring going on, so we kind of need him to step up and make plays."

One pick before the Redskins selected Thomas, the St. Louis Rams chose wideout Donnie Avery. Avery has 20 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal, the 42nd pick in the draft, has 39 catches for 392 yards and two touchdowns. And Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson, the 49th pick, has 32 catches for 505 yards and a touchdown. He also is among the NFL's top punt returners.

"I don't think you can determine what type of player a guy is going to be after eight games," left guard Pete Kendall said. "You can't say what he's going to be for his career, particularly this [Redskins] draft class with no high first-rounders. That's going to be borne out over time, not over eight games, whether or not the players that were selected and stayed ultimately panned out."

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