“Definitely,” he said the other day after pedaling on a stationary bike at Redskins Park, his only activity during practice while sidelined with yet another injury. “I have to keep believing that.”
The Redskins’ receiving corps is undergoing a major change mirroring that of the entire roster, and Kelly likely won’t be part of the remodeled unit.
Washington has waited patiently for the former second-roundpick, hoping Kelly, currently out with a foot problem, would finally fill its longtime need for a productive big target in the passing game. After more than three years, management’s patience apparently is exhausted with the 6-foot-4, 226-pounder.
Acquiring wideouts through a trade, the draft and free agency, Coach Mike Shanahan is preparing to move on without Kelly, 24, whose body has failed him repeatedly despite his hard work. All that remains are the details of the separation, some in the organization tell you, though Kelly continues to block out negative chatter.
He still believes in his skills, figuring the Redskins’ best group of wide receivers includes him. But confidence alone won’t help Kelly remain on the roster much longer, especially if he continues to spend more time with the medical staff than teammates.
The Redskins re-signed top wideout Santana Moss, acquired veteran possession receiver Jabar Gaffney in a trade with Denver, and brought back Anthony Armstrong, the team’s biggest surprise on offense last season. They also drafted three players at the position, including Leonard Hankerson, who possesses the physical skills (6-2, 209 pounds) to potentially contribute as a rookie.
On the first depth chart released Tuesday for Friday night’s preseason opener against Pittsburgh at FedEx Field, Kelly is listed among “others.” Without being first, second or third string, he’s clearly at the bottom of the 10-member squad. Also, Kelly does not play special teams. Brandon Banks and Terrence Austin, wide receivers potentially on the bubble as well, are returners.
There’s more competition than in past seasons for five or six wideout spots on the opening 53-man roster, and the coaching staff is “looking at it like we’re just going to throw a bag of balls out there and see who wants to go make plays,” receivers coach Keenan McCardell said. “Malcolm’s job, as a big receiver, is to make tough catches and be great in the blocking game. That’s what we’ve needed from him.”
Washington has lacked such a player since Michael Westbrook spent seven seasons with the team from 1995 through 2001. Westbrook was slowed by injuries throughout his career, and mostly failed to meet expectations, but he was a big-play threat and productive at times.
Shanahan was wise to address the wide receiver position after Washington lacked consistency and depth last season, relying on, among others, unproductive 39-year-old starter Joey Galloway and ineffective backup Roydell Williams, who had been out of football since 2007.
Kelly missed the 2010 season because of a severe hamstring injury. A knee problem limited him to five games as a rookie in 2008, and he underwent microfracture surgery after that season.
Working with quarterbacks John Beck, expected to start this season, and Rex Grossman in player-organized practices during the lockout, the sure-handed Kelly showed flashes of the ability that once prompted former Redskins coaches to envision him emerging as a consistent scoring threat.
Then shortly into training camp, Kelly experienced foot soreness and stalled again, “which is really too bad for Malcolm, because just the way his body looks, you can see he’s put in the work,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “He’s been in the league a while now, and you can probably count the number of games he’s played in on both hands, so that’s not a good sign.” For the record, Kelly has played in 21.
“But there’s something in that kid. I see it all the time,” Hall said. “The way he catches the ball, that big body, he’s a physical-type receiver. If we can ever keep him healthy, I feel like he can help us out a whole lot. I think the coaching staff sees it, but they also want to see him not get injured.”
Kelly has tried. It just hasn’t worked.
“As far as catching the ball, my hands and stuff like that, I’ll catch everything,” he said. “It’s the stuff I can’t control that makes it frustrating. My knee problem? That’s hereditary. The whole family had it.
“You try to do every little thing you can to prevent it but . . . I don’t know. I just know I want to do it here. I want to make it here. This is where I started. I want to stay here.”
Washington has already paid Kelly more than $3.2 million. Under the final season of his rookie contract, he has a salary of $555,000 and a salary cap number of $871,000.
From a team standpoint, those are cost-effective numbers for a productive big receiver. Kelly, however, hasn’t been that guy for the Redskins. And it seems he’s finally out of chances to try.