Kelly and Thomas know it's now or never with Redskins

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; 11:15 PM

The story could serve as a cautionary tale for Washington Redskins players, which seems to be Coach Mike Shanahan's intention.

Since arriving in Ashburn, Shanahan has repeatedly told media members, often without prompting, that while coaching the Denver Broncos, he released high-profile wide receivers Anthony Miller and Mike Pritchard - former first-round draft picks - in favor of unheralded wideouts Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. Both players had important roles in helping Denver win consecutive Super Bowl titles under Shanahan.

"It doesn't matter to me what guys have done in the past, where they were drafted or anything like that," Shanahan says. "For me, it's all about competition when you step on the football field, and the best man plays. That's the way we're going to do things with the Washington Redskins."

Shanahan's words aren't necessarily aimed at Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, though the third-year wideouts are listening intently. After two disappointing seasons, Kelly and Thomas could be at career crossroads in Washington.

Sidelined at times in the offseason because of injuries, Kelly (who is currently out with a sore hamstring) and Thomas began training camp closer to the bottom of the depth chart than the top. They trailed, among others, a 38-year-old who has a total of 20 receptions the past two seasons and another veteran who has been out of football since the 2007 season.

Kelly and Thomas probably must make significant, long-awaited progress or risk becoming part of a new Shanahan story.

"If you just look at the guys who are in front of Malcolm and Devin … it's gonna be an uphill battle for [the pair]," top cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "… You take a play off, you take a day off [or] a week off and you're moving behind. … And Devin and Malcolm, those guys were draft picks of a different regime. They've got to come in here and they've got to prove it."

At the outset of camp, Joey Galloway, 38, and Roydell Williams, who is attempting to revive his career after last playing for the Tennessee Titans three years ago, were listed as co-starters at the X receiver, or split end, position. The coaching staff moved Santana Moss, by far the Redskins' most productive wideout the past five seasons, from the X spot to Z, or flanker, during the offseason.

Moss is the only wideout believed to be assured a spot on the opening 53-man roster. "Santana Moss is really the only guy that we've got that is a proven veteran that has played week in and week out [in the past few seasons]," Shanahan said.

The other receivers in camp, including Kelly and Thomas, are fighting for roster spots. Former practice squad member Anthony Armstrong, veterans Bobby Wade and Mike Furrey and rookies Terrence Austin, Brandon Banks and Shay Hodge are all in the mix with Kelly and Thomas.

Besides Moss, "everybody else right now is competing," Shanahan said. The Redskins carried five receivers on their roster to start 2009.

This is not the scenario Thomas and Kelly, both 23, envisioned when they began their Redskins careers in 2008. Washington traded away its first pick in that draft and selected Thomas, Kelly and pass-catching tight end Fred Davis with its three second-round picks.

After struggling with maturity issues as a rookie, Thomas bumped Kelly from the starting lineup in Week 6 and had a seven-catch, 100-yard, two-touchdown performance in a Week 13 loss to New Orleans. But he sat out the last two games with an ankle injury.

Shanahan expressed disappointment Thomas was sidelined for some of the offseason program. And some of Thomas's critics privately question his decision to star in a music video with recording artist Fantasia while he had more than enough work to keep him busy on the field.

"That's just people talking who don't know what they're talking about," Thomas said. "It doesn't bother me at all because I know what I'm going out to do. I know what my purpose is, and that's to be a main contributor in this offense. I feel like that means being a starter - not coming off the bench."

Listed at 6 feet 2, 218 pounds, Thomas possesses excellent speed for a big receiver (he was clocked at 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the combine) . He is committed to the weight room and seems to bulk up more each season, but has not produced like other players at his position in the 2008 class, including the Eagles' DeSean Jackson.

The team's biggest wideout, Kelly (6-4, 226) has outstanding hands, but lacks breakaway speed (4.68 in the 40). He missed most of his rookie season because of knee problems the Redskins were aware of when they drafted him, and worked hard to recover from ensuing microfracture surgery.

Kelly participated in the first practice of training camp last week after injuring his hamstring during quarterback Donovan McNabb's "Hell Week," which began July 19.

He aggravated the injury during the second practice Friday and has been sidelined since. On Tuesday, Shanahan said Kelly probably would sit out a while longer.

"It's frustrating, but you just have to keep working through it," Kelly said. "I know this is it. I know it."

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