Vinny Cerrato’s top three picks all saw playing time in the Washington Redskins’ victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, perhaps providing a sign his gamble in the draft will pay off.
Wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis got into the game, and though they had just two catches among them - 6-yard receptions by Kelly and Davis - it is the first evidence since training camp that coach Jim Zorn is feeling a little better about his new toys.
“You can see how many guys can actually catch a ball in this particular offense,” Zorn said.
Davis, of course, got off to an ignominious start when he overslept and missed a minicamp workout in May. And both Kelly and Thomas wound up in Zorn’s doghouse during training camp for their lack of conditioning and preparation; both were slowed by injuries. Sunday was the first time this season all three were on the field; Davis and Thomas were inactive for the opening game against New York.
Not a great start for the first three players taken in a draft the Redskins counted on to restock and reshuffle their roster - perhaps for the first time since Dan Snyder bought the team.
The success or failure of those three young receivers is a referendum on Cerrato’s personnel era now that he is perceived as the guy in charge of putting together the roster - though that perception always has to be seen through burgundy-tinted glasses.
Given the weak offensive performances and the pressure quarterback Jason Campbell was getting before Sunday, using the top three picks on receivers while passing up offensive line depth seemed foolhardy.
That still may prove to be the case. But if this veteran offensive line can find a way protect Campbell on most days like it did against the Saints, then Zorn’s West Coast offense could prove to be quite a show - if the three pass-catchers can contribute.
“It has a tremendous impact,” Zorn said. “Then you can start plugging those receivers in. It really creates a problem for a defensive coordinator when he is trying to get a matchup and you have a similar ability guy in the same position. That defense does not know what is coming if you can move guys around and play more of your group.”
There was progress toward contribution Sunday.
“They are trying hard in practice,” Zorn said Monday during his press conference at Redskin Park. “They are not up to speed yet. Fred Davis is probably further along than both the young wide receivers because of the wide receivers being in and out so much. It is so critical to them where they align, how deep they go, getting in and out of routes.
“I thought Devin Thomas got open deep a couple of times,” Zorn said. “We were looking for Santana [Moss], and we should. But the routes down the field, deeper routes, he is running very well. It is the short, control routes that we have to help him improve. Some of that is just repetition, understanding what disciplined route running is. He will continue to get better.”
The Redskins likely will feature Thomas and Davis more. But Kelly is hurt again with a sprained ankle.
“Malcolm Kelly is not quite ready,” Zorn said. “Now he sprained his ankle, and he had to get himself out of there sooner because he didn’t help us after he got injured. He still tried to go, but we needed to get him out sooner.”
The group still needs to prove to Zorn it can handle the responsibilities of being part of this offense.
“It was good having us all out there at the same time, and hopefully we will see more and more of that during the season,” Thomas said. “They have more confidence in me as I mature and do the right things out there.
“We are still gelling as an offense. We are learning each other’s techniques. Once we get rolling, I think we will be real dangerous.”
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