By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Eager to contribute after having several weeks off to rest his bothersome left knee, Washington Redskins rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly was ready for practice to resume yesterday at Redskins Park.
"This is easily the best I've felt since training camp," Kelly said. "This is it."
His knee responded well after a full week of work last week, an encouraging sign for Kelly and the coaching staff, and the Redskins are hopeful Kelly could soon provide the big plays they envisioned when they drafted him.
Washington is expected to activate Kelly this week against the Seattle Seahawks, and the offense is in need of help after it struggled in consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. As Coach Jim Zorn walked off the field after practice, he sounded upbeat about the situation.
"He did pretty good. Real good," Zorn said of Kelly. "The thing that shows up right away, when Malcolm is out there, is that you can throw a vicinity pass, just a pass in the vicinity, and he's going to snag it. He has an easy way of catching the football. He makes something that could be spectacular for somebody else just look fairly easy. It's impressive. We've just got to hope he can continue."
The Redskins have spent most of the season waiting for Kelly, and their patience finally might be rewarded, coaches and players said.
"It definitely made sense to give Malcolm a chance to get healthy, to get that knee right, 'cause Malcolm is a guy who can make plays," quarterback Jason Campbell said recently. "The coaches decided it was the right thing to do, they looked at our team, and they figured Malcolm can help us, and I think he can. I think we need him."
Campbell is not alone in his opinion of Kelly. Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, felt so strongly about the potential contribution Kelly could make in the final six games that the Redskins released productive nickel cornerback Leigh Torrence instead of assigning Kelly to season-ending injured reserve -- a move that was even considered before the season -- when they signed free agent cornerback DeAngelo Hall earlier this month.
Zorn and wide receivers coach Stan Hixon have been extremely supportive of Kelly, who has one reception for six yards, and Campbell and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El are among many veterans who have "let me know, 'Hey, man, we need you out there,' " Kelly said. "I mean, yeah, it feels good when you hear that.
"When you hear guys say, 'We can't wait till you get back,' it builds your confidence up as a player, especially as a young player. When you're down and kind of injured, you question yourself. You get down in the dumps because you want to be out there, but as bad as you want it, if you're not feeling right, you can't do it."
Initially slowed because of a hamstring injury during training camp, Kelly underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 4 on his left knee and missed the preseason. He has been unable to play in some games because his knee swelled in pregame warmups, and the team's medical staff had to drain Kelly's knee several times after practices this season, Zorn said.
In an effort to help Kelly heal completely, the medical staff recommended he not participate in football activities for a few weeks; Kelly also received similar advice from a physician not with the team. Beginning with preparations for a Week 8 game against the Detroit Lions, Kelly watched practice from the sideline.
He continued to rest as the Redskins prepared to face the Steelers in Week 9 and relaxed during the bye week. Kelly rejoined his teammates as they prepared for last week's game against Dallas. Although Kelly did not experience knee problems, Zorn decided not to activate him against Dallas, which rallied in the fourth quarter for a 14-10 victory. Kelly expressed confidence he would have been ready, but Zorn had doubts, Hixon told Kelly.
"Coach Zorn felt like I knew most of my stuff, but there was some stuff I still had questions on 'cause I missed so much time," Kelly said. "If he dressed me out, he was going to put me out there a lot, Stan was saying, and he didn't want to put me out there knowing that I didn't know everything."
During practice last week, Kelly proved he could go "full speed" again, he said. His goal this week is to demonstrate to Zorn he has an improved understanding of the offense.
"I mean, three weeks without practicing, and then you've got another two or three weeks before that where I would go out in the beginning of the week," the knee would hurt and he would miss practice, Kelly said. "This week, I can kind of do both. I can go full speed and also run my routes. I went through a whole week of practice and didn't have any problems out of it. Now I can just make sure I have everything down with what I'm supposed to do out there. Just to help him have that confidence in me."
Drafted from Oklahoma with one of Washington's three second-round picks, Kelly (6 feet 4, 219 pounds) is the biggest wide receiver on the roster. Things began well for Kelly, 21, who made a good impression in training camp with his receiving and blocking skills.
Zorn and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith envisioned running special plays for Kelly, whose height and leaping ability could create matchup problems in the red zone. But Kelly, whom Zorn criticized for his poor conditioning at the beginning of training camp, struggled with those recurring knee problems and learning the playbook.
"When you're injured, everybody says, 'Stay in the film room, stay in your playbook,' but it's one thing to look at it on paper," Kelly said. "If you're getting no reps at it, it's totally different once you get out there. But I know I'm getting back to where I need to be."