Stripped down to his black skintight shorts on one of the hottest days of the year, Devin Thomas was a lonely figure on the Washington Redskins practice field Monday morning.
He ran sprints around orange cones, pantomimed catching the ball in pass patterns and stretched his nagging hamstring against the goal post.
"It's frustrating not being able to be out there with the guys right now," said Thomas, the sweat dripping from his forearms, "so I'm doing everything I can to get back."
A half-hour earlier, when the regular practice had ended, another second-year receiver walked off the field. Malcolm Kelly has also been battling a hamstring issue during training camp, but at least he was back in a helmet and full pads and was able to participate.
"They just have to play," said coach Jim Zorn of his two young receivers. "They've got some distance to come."
Zorn is asked daily about Thomas and Kelly, the 2008 second-round draft picks who were supposed to provide instant offense to the coach's West Coast passing attack. The results last year couldn't have been more disappointing: Thomas struggled learning how to run the pass patterns and caught only 15 passes in 16 games; Kelly had hamstring, knee and ankle injuries and caught just three passes in five games.
Had Washington gotten substantial contribution from either player instead of the offense struggling over the second half of the season — when defenses realized Santana Moss was the only regular downfield threat — the Redskins might have finished better than 8-8 and made the playoffs.
That is why Thomas and Kelly could be just as important as Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo, the two major additions on defense. The Redskins envision that one of them could supplant Antwaan Randle El as the No. 2 receiver — Randle El would move to the slot as a third-down player — to provide more big-play oomph to the passing game.
That is why Thomas and Kelly could be just as important as Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo, the two major additions on defense. The If one of them could supplant Antwaan Randle El as the No. 2 receiver — Randle El would move to the slot as a third-down player — to provide more big-play oomph to the passing game.
The start to this year's camp was promising. Both passed the conditioning test — they both failed it a year ago — and Zorn gave Thomas the early edge over Kelly, mainly because Thomas' route-running has vastly improved.
"Everything was really mechanical. He wasn't sure of anything," Zorn said. "Everything was one speed. When you watch him now, he's able to change speed, he's able to put a move on a defender, actually get leverage on a defender. He's really much more freed up to be a receiver than last year."
Thomas admits he spent last season learning how to be a pro. He said he's calmer and more relaxed his second time around.
"You come into a new situation, or a new job, as a young man and you have to get a feel for it," Thomas said. "As you become more mature as a receiver, you do little things better than you have done in the past. Coming out of college, I was pretty raw with certain things."
While Thomas is more of a downfield threat, 6-foot-4 Kelly represents the type of big target that could help cure the offense's woes in the red zone. It's not that he ran his routes poorly last year — he never got much of a chance to run them at all because of his injury.
For advice, Kelly went to Moss, who went through a similarly difficult rookie season in 2001 with the New York Jets. For commiseration, all he had to do was talk to Thomas — although both agree the Kelly was the more frustrated of the two.
"He was on the field," Kelly said. "He didn't get as many balls as he wanted, but at least he was out there. I couldn't get out there."
For a few practices last week, neither was on the field because of sore hamstrings. The No. 2 spot is up for grabs, and the first preseason game is Thursday at Baltimore, but neither can make much of a claim if they can't get on the field.
"They have to play in ballgames," Zorn said. "And right now we're still trying to get Devin's hamstring up to speed, and we'll see how it goes. They need a lot of work."
NOTES: Thomas and Kelly aren't the only receivers with hamstring issues. Moss missed practice again Monday with the same problem. ... RG Randy Thomas' knee has been a concern during camp. He dressed for practice Monday but didn't take part in team drills. "I'm not a spring chicken like I used to be," said Thomas, who had knee and neck surgeries in the offseason. "It takes a little more time."