Redskins' Thomas and Kelly Get Their Hands on Second Chances

Wide Receivers Eager to Improve On Disappointing Rookie Seasons

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dwight Thomas wasn't especially surprised his son, Devin, turned in a disappointing rookie season. He'd seen it before, his son making a big step to a new level and inevitably struggling to adjust.

"Throughout his little football career, I mean, this always happened," Dwight Thomas said Thursday, taking in training camp at Redskins Park. "When he started in [youth] football, his first year in junior high, his first year in high school, whatever it was, he was always just a little slow to get going, just moderate."

But Dwight Thomas has reason for optimism. In Year 2, he says, his son has always adjusted and exceeded expectations.

The Redskins are counting on it. Determined to upgrade their offense, coaches are banking on either Thomas or Malcolm Kelly to prove that they belong in the starting lineup and can bolster the team's passing game.

In the second day of this year's training camp, it was Thomas who saw the most action with the first-team unit, and he appears to have a slight edge over Kelly in the initial stage of the position battle. Of course, that's how the Redskins started last year's camp, too.

Since the two receivers were each taken in the second round of the 2008 draft, their names have appeared in the same sentence -- Thomas and Kelly, the Redskins' version of a buddy comedy -- and coaches and fans alike are paying close attention these next several weeks to see which is able to distinguish himself.

"Devin is showing that he is a little more seasoned than Malcolm right now, but they're both going to be competing and Antwaan [Randle El] is not going to give it up," Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said. "So we're having great competition at that flanker position, especially with those two guys."

The goal is the same as a year ago, when injuries stunted the preseason progress of both receivers: Coaches are hoping one of the two can line up opposite Santana Moss as starting flanker. That would allow Randle El to shift into the slot, where his speed and size could create matchup problems.

The plan never developed last year, and the Redskins had to rely on James Thrash. But Thrash was released in June, which creates a hole in the passing game, one that some fans and observers aren't certain either Thomas or Kelly has shown he's ready to fill.

"I haven't seen anything from either one of them that says they're starting material yet," said former Redskin Brian Mitchell, now an analyst for WUSA-TV. "I've never seen Kelly. He's been hurt. Devin Thomas last year they said he couldn't learn plays because he was a little overly aggressive. He could ultimately be somebody. What is it that made them demote Randle El and made them promote one of those guys without ever seeing anything from them?"

Though Moss and Randle El combined for 132 receptions and 1,637 yards a year ago, the team is hoping to spread the ball around more and develop a deep threat. Last season the Redskins ranked 28th in the NFL in receptions of 20 yards or more and 29th in receptions of 40 or more.

Thomas and Kelly both say they've improved since last season and are ready to prove it to coaches.

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