The Washington Redskins have undergone a wealth of changes during this offseason, and while the head coach and GM changes made the most headlines, it is the stagnate state of the receiving corp that worries many fans. Moreover, what does it say about the team that their projected opening day starter alongside Santana Moss, Joey Galloway, is just a year younger than newly hired receivers coach Keenan McCardell?
It says the Redskins could be in for a world of hurt on offense with no passing game to turn to.
Last season, the offense was awful for a variety of reasons. The offensive line had been neglected and fell into disrepair which led to the stalling of the running game. Clinton Portis went down with a concussion and Chris Cooley went down with a broken ankle. Midway through the season, teams keyed on Fred Davis and Moss because they weren't worried about the run game or anyone else on the field.
When opponents know where the ball is going, the ball tends to move a little less without elite players to make the spectacular catch, or thread the needle on a pass. Campbell, Moss and Davis are not elite and neither are any of the players vying for positions on this year's depth chart.
Galloway, the aforementioned elder statesman, has had very little impact through the Redskins' three preseason games despite looking good through the mini-camps and training camp. While experience can help a veteran make a team, it shouldn't guarantee him a spot on the roster.
The youth movement Washington has on the outside needs to grow up in a hurry.
Kelly and Thomas were supposed to be the glimmer of hope for the receiver position, but that glimmer was under the previous coach and GM. Shanahan and Allen are not the pushovers (or lapdogs) that Zorn and Cerrato were. They know what it takes to build a franchise into a winner.
Building being the key word, since neither man is interested in leveling the team and rebuilding.
Under Zorn, Thomas and Kelly were essentially given a free pass when it came to practice and playing. Thomas was focused more on the extracurricular activities, and Kelly was working just to get healthy. Combined, Kelly and Thomas have 21 starts, 68 catches, 810 yards and three receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
Eddie Royal, taken by the Broncos in the very same draft as Kelly and Thomas, has 27 starts, 128 catches, 1325 yards, five receiving touchdowns and two return touchdowns himself.
Over the course of this offseason, we have seen Thomas try to capture the professionalism necessary to succeed in the NFL, while Kelly remains on the bubble to make the roster after missing all of the team's preseason contests so far and missed a good portion of training camp. Thomas is projected to be the opening day bench-warmer behind Moss, Galloway, and preseason upstart Anthony Armstrong.
It is in Armstrong that the Redskins hope their compliment to Moss in the passing game.
Through three games, Armstrong has made plays down the field, in the red zone, on the outside, and even on special teams. These days, everyone is so specialized that the lack of versatility can be crippling. Marcus Mason was a casualty of specialization, running back first, last and only. Unlike Mason, the previous preseason darling, Armstrong is putting work in everywhere.
He may make the final roster, but who knows what kind of affinity the coaches have for Galloway as an experienced second receiver. He has certainly shown his abilities against first string defenders, rather than defenders fighting for roster spots as Mason did.
The hope is that Armstrong defining himself during the preseason transitions to the regular season. Word is that Shanahan may only keep two quarterbacks, leaving room for depth at the weak receiver position. After a few years in the Intense Football league and a practice squad stay in Miami, Armstrong is turning heads with his speed and ability to find the ball.
If Armstrong, Galloway, Moss and Thomas are "guaranteed" spots, who claims the fifth and/or sixth spots?
Rookie Brandon Banks made his mark on the preseason with his punt return touchdown against the Bills in the first preseason game. He hurt his case by fumbling a punt against the Jets. Even so, he has made a few plays in the screen game on offense, which gives him all-important versatility.
Banks is not alone in the fight for return man and receiver depth. Rookie Terrence Austin is vying for the same role, but hasn't made any defining plays to insure his spot.
Journeyman vet Bobby Wade is more of an extra body for camp than he is a serious contender for the starting job, or even back-up job.
Then there is the dark horse, Roydell Williams. A practice squad addition a year ago who spent 2008 away from the game, Williams has been quietly productive on offense with six catches for 64 yards. While that may not seem like much, he has been on the field and working hard which could mean the difference between being cut, dropping to the practice squad and seeing the field during the regular season.
Given the issue at receiver and the array of possible outcomes, I'd say the Redskins have the chance to fly under the radar as a quality passing team. Since no one really knows who will be lining up on opening day, coupled with the list of potential players, perhaps Washington may own the element of surprise.
It was only five years ago that Moss had his coming out party in the form of two late-game touchdown receptions against Dallas. Who will be the next player to step up? My guess is Armstrong, who has shown the ability to make tough catches, fight for the ball and get open if and when the pocket breaks down for new quarterback Donovan McNabb.
In any case, the Redskins have a lot of kinks to work out in their receiving game and less time to do it in. The final preseason game against will work to define depth, but Shanahan and Son are keeping a closed lid on who their front-runners are. In other words, stay tuned to Washington because week one against the Cowboys will be the first test for the near anonymous group of receivers the Redskins will be fielding.