Jansen Could Be Demoted

Heyer Battles Redskins Veteran; Kelly Might Miss Season

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 30, 2008

As the Washington Redskins prepare to kick off the NFL's regular season next week against the New York Giants, longtime starting right tackle Jon Jansen could lose his job, and rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly might be sidelined for the season because of recurring knee problems, Coach Jim Zorn said yesterday.

After a shaky preseason in which he struggled in pass protection, Jansen, the senior member of Washington's offensive line, and second-year tackle Stephon Heyer are battling for a spot on the first-team offense.

Heyer started in place of Jansen, sidelined because of a sprained left foot, as the Redskins finished the preseason in Thursday's 24-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at FedEx Field. Jansen is expected to be back at practice this week in preparation for Thursday's nationally televised game at Giants Stadium.

The Redskins are not as optimistic about Kelly's situation. Among the rookies the Redskins had hoped would contribute immediately, Kelly sat out the preseason after arthroscopic left knee surgery. Kelly was supposed to make his pro debut last Saturday but suffered a setback in warmups, prompting the Redskins to consider putting him on injured reserve and ending his first NFL season.

For the second time in as many weeks, Washington's offensive starters struggled in a key tune-up for the opener, producing 14 yards and no first downs on seven plays in three first-quarter series against Jacksonville's top defensive group. Although still confident Washington has the right players to execute the West Coast scheme he has installed, Zorn acknowledged there are problems offensively and difficult decisions as the roster must be trimmed today from 75 to the 53-man limit.

"I feel very confident that we're going to have the best group out there that will give us a chance to win," Zorn said while meeting with reporters at Redskins Park. "We will focus in and zero in on some of the things that we really want to do now. I feel like we're in the beginning stages of being able to put our best foot forward with our absolute best group that we could put out on the field."

Whether Jansen and Kelly are among the group remains to be seen. Injured Aug. 23 in a 47-3 loss to Carolina, Jansen sat out practice last week. Heyer, who missed time in the preseason after spraining his right knee Aug. 3 in a 30-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, impressed Zorn with his solid outing against Jacksonville.

Despite the overall poor performance of the offensive starters, the offensive line rebounded after its awful showing against Carolina, and Heyer "helped himself," Zorn said.

"He stepped in and played right tackle, which is what he did when Jon was injured [last season], and he shored things up for us over there. That's going to be a battle. That's a very close battle. Now that Stephon is playing, he has a chance to play some this year."

Jansen, beginning his 10th NFL season, all with the Redskins, broke his ankle in the 2007 opener against the Miami Dolphins and missed the remainder of the season. Heyer, an undrafted rookie free agent last season, and veteran tackle Todd Wade, who has missed most of the preseason because of an ankle injury, started on the right side while Jansen was out, but Jansen was expected to reclaim his spot this season.

Jansen was ineffective against speed rushers Aug. 16 in a 13-10 victory over the Jets and in the Carolina debacle, opening the door for Heyer "to compete for the position. I would say that," Zorn said. "I'm not giving up on Jon Jansen. He's been a great part of this offense. But we're just evaluating, and I thought Stephon came in and did a good job."

Zorn would not commit to Jansen starting against the Giants. "That remains to be seen because of his health," Zorn said. "I want him to practice. I want him to get out there and show he can really anchor on that ankle."

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