Donovan McNabb's injury isn't expected to sideline him, though Malcolm Kelly's injury could cost him a roster spot

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 12:51 AM

Monday began with a national media buzz that quarterback Donovan McNabb may not be ready for the Washington Redskins' regular season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. But while no one in the Redskins' locker room seems concerned that McNabb's sprained ankle will affect his availability for that Sept.12 matchup - "I think he'll be ready to go," former Pro Bowl fullback Mike Sellers said - there are now deeper issues regarding the health of third-year wide receiver Malcolm Kelly.

Kelly, who has not played in a preseason game, suffered a potentially serious setback in his attempt to make the roster when he further strained his already balky hamstring Monday, his first full attempt at practice since July 30.

Coach Mike Shanahan wasn't sure of the extent of Kelly's strain immediately after the Redskins' 90-minute workout, saying only that it "looked like it was a pretty good pull."

The injury was to the same left hamstring that has wiped out nearly all of Kelly's preseason, and it will almost certainly prevent him from appearing in Thursday's preseason finale at Arizona. That game was to be Kelly's lone opportunity to impress Shanahan and the rest of the new Washington coaching staff, which must cut the roster from 80 to 53 between now and Saturday evening.

"It's disappointing," Shanahan said. "He's gone over three weeks, 31/2 weeks getting it ready, and he feels like it's full-go, and it bothers him right away [in Monday's workout].

"Hey, there's nothing you can do about it. As we've talked about before: that's why you have a lot of players at a lot of different positions. . . . The people that are healthy and the people that go out there and prove themselves get a chance to make this football team and get a chance to help us win."

Kelly was not available to comment after practice, but as he has been relegated to side work while the rest of the Redskins learn Shanahan's offense he has repeatedly referred to his situation as "frustrating." Shanahan said Kelly had an MRI exam earlier in training camp, and that the test revealed no tear, only a pull.

"Obviously it must be a lot worse than we first thought," Shanahan said.

McNabb's ankle sprain may fall into that category as well, though none of the quarterback's teammates are acting like it's a big deal. Still, McNabb hasn't practiced since suffering the injury to his left ankle Aug. 21 against Baltimore. On Sunday, Shanahan called the situation "day-by-day" and said he did not know whether the 33-year-old would be ready to make his Redskins debut against Dallas.

Shanahan reiterated his "day-by-day" stance on Monday, a day when McNabb stretched with his teammates and watched practice without shoulder pads - but also without an ankle brace, though he did wear a sleeve on the lower part of his left leg. He moved on the field and in the locker room without a limp.

McNabb has not addressed reporters about his injury since last week, when he said it felt "a lot better" than immediately after the Ravens game. If there was any concern among Redskins' veterans that McNabb would miss the Dallas game - still 12 days away - they hid it well. What has already been lost, however, is practice time in Shanahan's new offense with the starting quarterback.

"Obviously the more somebody practices, the more in rhythm he's going to be," Shanahan said. "We all understand that."

Or, as John Beck, who is battling Richard Bartel for a third-string quarterback job behind McNabb and Rex Grossman, said, "Getting a real rep instead of just talking about it on a chalkboard is a huge difference."

Missing practice Monday didn't prevent McNabb from preparing for Dallas. The projected starters on offense, almost all of whom are expected to sit out against Arizona, served as the scout team for the defenders scheduled to play against the Cardinals. The starters also watched game tape of the Cowboys and, as tight end Chris Cooley said, "Donovan ran the film [session]. He ran the show."

The locker room consensus: What's the fuss about? McNabb will be ready.

"You have little obstacles that come up every year that you have to overcome," veteran wide receiver Santana Moss said. "I think the one obstacle that we have right now is something that we're not even thinking about. We feel like when it's time, he'll be ready."

That isn't the prevailing sentiment on Kelly. The third-year wide receiver out of Oklahoma was inactive in 11 regular season games during his 2008 rookie season because of recurring knee problems, then caught 25 balls for 347 yards last year.

Now, because of another injury, he finds himself wondering whether he will make the final roster. Coaches will cut seven players Tuesday, then 20 more Saturday.

The options with Kelly by the end of the week: keep him on the 53-man roster, hoping he'll recover in time to contribute this season; put him on injured reserve, making him ineligible for the entire season; or release him.

Shanahan said Monday he has, in the past, kept players on the active roster who have failed to appear in a preseason game. That, however, is a difficult decision.

"It's really hard to say," Shanahan said. "It all depends on how much a guy's played in the past. What did you think of his talent? When do you think he can come back? A lot of different questions that you have to have answered before you have someone in your top 53 - and you keep them."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company