Malcolm Kelly was humble while rivals Antwaan Randle El and Devin Thomas were at peace on Thursday with Redskins coach Jim Zorn’s announcement that Kelly will open the season on Sunday against the New York Giants as the No. 2 receiver alongside veteran Santana Moss.
“It means a lot after missing [virtually] the whole year last year … going through that [knee] injury,” said Kelly, who caught just three passes in five games as a rookie in 2008. “I always said that once I get healthy, I know I can play football. But I still got a lot to prove.”
So does Thomas, who played in every game last season but produced just 15 catches, 120 yards and no touchdowns. He didn’t help his cause by missing a week of camp this summer with a tender hamstring.
“It’s not a surprise,” Thomas said. “Malcolm’s a hard worker and he’s making plays. It’s good for him to be fully healthy and ready to go. I know we’re all going to get a lot of playing time and be ready to make plays.”
That didn’t happen that often in preseason. The fellow second-round picks from the 2008 draft had virtually identical statistics: each has seven catches with Kelly gaining 69 yards and Thomas 67. Neither scored.
But the 6-foot-4 Kelly has two inches on Thomas — and half a foot on the 5-10 Randle El — and displayed better hands day after day in practice. Kelly said he was motivated by coming to camp behind Thomas on the depth chart.
“I knew I was behind because I missed a whole lot more practices than he did,” said Kelly, who was held out of minicamp and organized team activities in May as he recovered from a third knee surgery. “I told myself that behind or ahead I was going to stay after practice every day, catch balls from Jason [Campbell], catch balls from the Jugs machine and it’s paying off.”
Kelly believes that he transferred that consistency to practices and preseason.
“I think they believe that they can trust me to be in the right spot and make plays,” Kelly said. “I try to make sure that my hands are dependable. That’s one of my best attributes. I feel like I had a pretty good training camp and then not to drop a ball the whole preseason and to make plays … when they needed [them] showed them what they needed to see.”
Randle El, who had three catches for 32 yards and no touchdowns in preseason, handled his demotion with his typical class.
“I congratulated Malcolm because that’s a big feat,” said Randle El, who held the job the previous three seasons. “Of course, there are mixed feelings. I know I did everything I could in camp [to keep the job]. But I’m for the team. Wherever [Coach Zorn] wants me to play, I will. I know I did everything I could in camp.”
— David Elfin