Newest Targets Are in Place for the Redskins
With So Many Pass Catchers, Offense Promises to Become More Wide Open
Tuesday, April 29, 2008; Page E01
As they ate breakfast together yesterday before their first news conference at Redskins Park, wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, and tight end Fred Davis discussed their plans to contribute to the Washington Redskins. The team's top selections in the NFL draft, they see plenty of opportunity in the version of the West Coast offense that Coach Jim Zorn plans to run.
"We're all coming in together," said Kelly during one of three news conferences. "We were all kind of the guy at our universities, now we're all kind of pups again, and we know where we stand. We know we have to come in here and compete and push each other. We're going to push each other to get better. Definitely."
After trading their first-round pick -- No. 21 overall -- to the Atlanta Falcons on the first day of the two-day draft, the Redskins used their three second-round picks, including two acquired in the deal with Atlanta, to choose the players who already are considered key members of a receiving corps that needed an infusion of talent to accomplish what Zorn has in mind. The coaching staff will begin to unveil Zorn's offense in the minicamp that begins Friday.
The Redskins are about to open up things offensively, and Thomas, Davis and Kelly could provide Zorn with intriguing options.
"It gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility," Zorn said of the Redskins' move to bolster the receiving corps through the draft. "It gives us depth, and if we do have somebody that gets nicked up, we won't lose anything with the firepower that we can put on the field.
"I'm excited about the ability to change personnel groups, that's what I think I'm most excited about, because that's what aids this particular style of offense -- personnel groups and changing them. We'll be able to utilize certain guys for certain situations. And then the height that these two receivers have, to get them down in the red zone and to have them go up for the ball and compete against a shorter corner will be a real advantage."
Having failed to package their top pick for the veteran receiver they were seeking (Washington was rebuffed in its attempts to acquire Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals and Anquan Boldin of the Arizona Cardinals), the Redskins turned to the draft in an attempt to acquire a bigger target for developing quarterback Jason Campbell.
Thomas, who had a breakout year last season at Michigan State, was Washington's first pick at No. 34 overall and is 6 feet 2, 215 pounds. With the No. 48 pick, the Redskins took Davis (6-4, 248) from Southern Cal. And with their final selection in the second round, Washington drafted Kelly (6-4, 218), a standout at Oklahoma, at No. 51 overall.
Both Thomas and Kelly will start out at the "Z receiver," or flanker position, behind starter Santana Moss, Zorn said. Generally, the Z receiver is the fastest and most physical receiver in an offense.
After the Redskins used their first pick on Thomas, he received a congratulatory text message on his cellphone from Kelly. They had become friends after initially meeting at the combine and roomed together while visiting NFL teams. When the Redskins took Kelly, the text messaging resumed.
"That was real great for me," said Thomas, the first player to meet with the media yesterday. "You see a lot of dynamic [players] coming off the board [to the Redskins], it really puts more fire [into] an offense that already has a lot of fuel. I think we're going to be rolling. I think it's going to be a good situation for everybody."
Despite Washington's focus in the draft, wide receivers Moss and Antwaan Randle El are on firm footing as the starters, the Redskins said. But Moss and Randle El each are 5-10, so Thomas and Kelly could bring another dimension to the passing game. "With my size, I can fight for the ball," Thomas said. "I can use my body and go up at the highest point, box out defensive backs, linebackers. Going across the middle, I can take some shots and keep on ticking."
On the final day teams could watch workouts before the draft last week, a large Redskins contingent that included Campbell traveled to Oklahoma to attend Kelly's private workout for team personnel. After catching passes from Campbell and briefly meeting with team officials, Kelly told "family, friends and everybody I figured I was going to end up a Washington Redskin."
Although Kelly, like Thomas, is a tall receiver, Kelly lacks Thomas's speed. Kelly slid down several draft boards because of his disappointing performances in the 40-yard dash (he posted times as high as 4.69 seconds in recent workouts) and questions about his maturity, and some teams voiced concerns about Kelly's knees, too. Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, said he received favorable reports about Kelly from a Sooners coach. Kelly preferred to look forward.
"That's old news," Kelly said. "That's Oklahoma. This is Washington. . . . With the new offense that coach is bringing in, it's going to be a lot playmakers out there. Hopefully, me and Devin can learn from Santana and Antwaan."
Davis will begin behind tight end Chris Cooley, who went to the Pro Bowl after last season. But if Davis performs as expected, he could be busy as well, coaches said.
"There are plans for him," wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. "We'll have some two tight-end sets. We'll have two tight ends, two wideouts and one back. We want to be in a situation where we can be very versatile, and utilizing talent in multiple formations. Obviously, Cooley is a Pro Bowler and he's going to be the guy. We can fill Fred in there as we go."
Davis, who won the Mackey Award as college football's top tight end last season, said he is eager to see what happens next for the Redskins' top three picks. "It's going to be a learning experience first, there's a lot to learn, but there's a lot of possibilities, too," he said. "I guess we're about to find out."