The Washington Redskins are reworking their passing game once again after the loss of receiver Irving Fryar for at least two games.
The Redskins will start James Thrash against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at FedEx Field and promote Andre Reed to third receiver. Cornerback Champ Bailey may also play receiver on some first or second downs for the first time in four weeks while Derrius Thompson will be activated for the first time this season.
Washington isn’t expected to deal for a receiver by today’s 4 p.m. trading deadline, but the Redskins are trying to squeeze more from their reserve receivers after losing Fryar for possibly a month with bruised nerves in his neck. Fryar was released from a Philadelphia hospital yesterday after remaining overnight for observation following his injury during the 17-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
After already losing receiver Michael Westbrook with a season-ending knee injury, the Redskins are without their first and third receivers to force new options. Connell has been a downfield playmaker the last three weeks while Thrash caught a career-high five passes for 45 yards Sunday after grabbing just three receptions in 1999. Reed has learned the offense after signing Sept. 12 to become a viable third option.
Still, with a banged-up offensive line giving quarterback Brad Johnson little time to find second and third options much less permit receivers more time to run downfield, the Redskins are adjusting their early season passing schemes to more quick throws and occasional downfield chances. The changes have helped the Redskins rediscover big plays with nine receptions of 15 or more yards against the Eagles.
“If we weren’t moving the ball I’d be very concerned,” coach Norv Turner said. “No one has moved the ball so well against Philadelphia this year, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not getting the points out of it. Whether it’s a missed field goal or third-down conversion we didn’t make or two back-to-back penalties that move us from the 30 to the 40, we don’t get points.”
While Connell remains the primary receiver regardless of his sideline spat with passing coordinator Terry Robiskie on Sunday, Thrash is finally using his speed to separate from defenders without dropping passes, which had plagued him for three seasons. Turner worries a possible option of Thrash also returning punts as well as kickoffs against Baltimore could compromise his receiving role.
“James goes 100 mph every play he is ever in in practice and in games,” Turner said. “We just have to make sure we don’t kill him from a physical load in practice and games.”
The Redskins are also concerned about overtaxing Bailey, who remains the team’s best cornerback. Bailey played four snaps at receiver against Dallas on Sept. 18.
“You get torn. He’s playing so well on defense with such consistency, I would hate to take away from a strength of our defense,” Turner said, “but if we can get Champ in and give him a chance to make a play or two or someone else a play or two then we’ll consider it.”
Reed caught a 9-yarder against the Eagles, but missing two practices because of family reasons last week contributed to him drawing two penalties and limiting his routes. However, Turner expects Reed’s involvement to increase during Fryar’s absence.
“It’s just a matter of being aware of what’s going on out there,” Reed said. “You just can’t be running blind. [Learning the offense] wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’d been in two places in 1 and 1/2 months.”
Still the Redskins realize the steady stream of injuries is draining the offense’s capabilities. Guard Keith Sims needed crutches and a walking boot for his ailing heel yesterday while offensive tackle Chris Samuels may not practice tomorrow with a sprained knee. Having already lost guard Tre Johnson, center Cory Raymer and Westbrook to injuries, the team’s depth is being challenged.
“We have some tough days ahead,” fullback Larry Centers said. “Sure we’d like to have Cory, Tre, Westbrook and Irving out there, but we have to go with guys that are available and trust the job they do will be sufficient.”
Said Sims: “That’s why we have such good depth on this team [but] you get to a point where eventually it’s going to take its toll.”