NFC East: Malcolm Kelly

Morning. It's eight days until the start of the NFL's regular season, 11 days until the first NFC East games of the year, and we are counting it down the only way we know how: Link by link.

Dallas Cowboys

Remember, Jerry Jones says, Tony Romo got knocked out of the 2010 season playing behind a veteran offensive line. So what's so wrong with going young there? Sure, it's spin, but it's a worthwhile point that someone you all know very well made yesterday before he even heard Jones mention it -- how much worse can the kids be than what they already had there?

While everyone expects Orlando Scandrick and his new contract to eventually replace Terence Newman in the starting lineup at cornerback, Jason Garrett says that's not happening now. Garrett says he likes Newman and Mike Jenkins as his starting corners and Scandrick in his nickel role, and there are no plans to change it, assuming Newman and Jenkins get back from their injuries sometime soon and actually play.

New York Giants

Mike Garafolo writes that the last time Eli Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass in the preseason was 2004, his rookie year. Mike also demonstrates, with the help of a really cool Star-Ledger graphic that uses different Eli faces (interceptions are upside-down Eli faces!), that the Giants haven't been completing passes over the middle this preseason. It could be because they're still working on finding something reliable in the slot. Could also be that preseason doesn't mean anything. Soon, we'll find out for real. Anyway, click on that graphic. Star-Ledger graphics are excellent, and I'm not just saying that as a proud alum.

The great thing about Tom Coughlin is that he's going to give it to you straight without worrying about his players' feelings. Jerrel Jernigan was clearly a fiasco on punt returns Monday night, and Coughlin said as much on his conference call Monday. There's a chance they could use Aaron Ross, who's now a starting cornerback, to return punts instead, though Coughlin admitted he's hesitant to do that because they need Ross so much now in the starting lineup. Ross hasn't always been the healthiest guy in the league, you know.

Philadelphia Eagles

Amid all of the expected angles on the Michael Vick contract story, Jonathan Tamari actually spoke to Vick's creditors and offers a story about how the new deal affects Vick's rather messy personal finances. Good thinking, Jon.

Evan Mathis said he signed in Philadelphia expecting to be a starter, which he is now, at left guard, after the options at right tackle all fizzled out and they had to move Todd Herremans over there. The Mathis signing got lost amid the bigger-name Eagles signings late last month, because he's an offensive lineman and because those guys have bigger names. But as it turns out, that may have been one of the more important signings they made.

Washington Redskins

I wouldn't be surprised if the Redskins found another defensive lineman to add to their mix once the cuts all come in this weekend. But right now, it sounds as though they're comfortable going with what they have there, even with promising rookie Jarvis Jenkins out with a torn ACL.

And, as expected, Malcolm Kelly was one of the cuts the Redskins made Tuesday to get down to 80 players. The 2008 second-round draft pick had a world of talent, the old Redskins coaches and new Redskins coaches agreed, but he just could never get healthy enough to stay on the field and show it. Kelly is just 24 years old, but the injuries have him considering hanging it up and doing something else for a living.
Morning. We are 29 days from the start of the NFL regular season and one day from the start of preseason games. Excited? Can't wait? Need something to get you through until the action starts? Well, here are some links.

Dallas Cowboys

Felix Jones is going with the Reese Bobby, "If you ain't first, you're last" mantra this year, telling Clarence Hill his goal is to be the best running back in the league. Good stuff, but aren't we still waiting for him to prove he's the best back on the Cowboys?

Josh Brent impressed some people with his performance in the Blue-White scrimmage, and he might be giving the Cowboys a look at their future at the nose tackle position. Jay Ratliff said "there's no drop-off" when Brent comes in the game. Brent was somewhat more humble about the idea of replacing Ratliff. Very least, if the kid's any good, the Cowboys can feel like they have some depth there.

New York Giants

Really no end in sight to the Osi Umenyiora saga. The latest is that he's apparently flying to Atlanta to get a second opinion on his knee, which he has claimed is his reason for not practicing. Clearly, there's some skepticism around the Giants that dissatisfaction over his contract is the real reason he's not practicing. If this is to become a battle over how healthy Umenyiora's knee really is, it's really no closer to a resolution. Personally, I'm not sure how a guy can simultaneously claim to deserve a new, long-term contract and also that his knee isn't healthy enough to let him play. Steve Smith likely would appreciate some tips if Umenyiora is able to pull that off.

We've said it a few times, but "Henry Hynoski" is a great fullback's name. The Giants' new fullback, Paul Schwartz writes, inherited it from another who wore it well.

Philadelphia Eagles

There might be no one on the Eagles' roster who's looking forward to Thursday night's preseason opener more than rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett. The Eagles drafted him because they liked how hard he hit people, and so far in training camp practices he of course hasn't been allowed to showcase that ability against his teammates. He'll try and take some of his pent-up energy out on the Ravens if he gets the chance, and hope it helps him win a starting job.

The Eagles are also looking forward to seeing how rookie linebacker Casey Matthews handles his first taste of NFL game action. Matthews right now is penciled in as the starter at middle linebacker, which is one of the surprises so far of training camp. If he shows he can handle it, that lessens the team's need to go out and find linebacker help on a dwindling free-agent market.

Washington Redskins

Rex Grossman isn't even guaranteed the starting quarterback's job for the Redskins, but he still believes the team is capable of big things. He tells CSN Washington, "This offense, from top to bottom, is better than the offense I had in Chicago," the year he and the Bears went to the Super Bowl, and, "I know we're going to be a good team. We don't need people saying we're the best right now, but when all is said and done, I really feel we're going to win the East." So that's Rex's prediction, folks. Do with it what you will.

Jason Reid isn't expecting former second-round pick Malcolm Kelly to be part of the Redskins' plans in 2011. Surely, the number of new receivers the team has brought in this offseason indicates a lack of satisfaction with the group that was already in place. The team once had high hopes for Kelly, but the current regime looks ready to move on.

Back to Giants camp today, but as always I'll have an eye on all four teams. Hit me up on Twitter if something's on your mind.

Camp Confidential: Redskins

August, 6, 2011
8/06/11
10:49
AM ET
ASHBURN, Va. -- This will be Brian Orakpo's third year in the NFL, but the Washington Redskins linebacker finds himself in an unusual position. There are only 16 players in camp who have been with the Redskins longer than Orakpo has. Only five of those 16 are starters and only three play defense. This puts Orakpo, who turned 25 last week, in the position of having to help a lot of new guys learn the way things work around Redskins Park.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
AP Photo/Evan VucciEntering just his third season in the league, Brian Orakpo is already one of the longest-tenured players on the Redskins' defense.
"It's very odd, man," Orakpo said. "I'm only going into my third year and already guys are looking at me as being a veteran on the team. So it's a different era, where we're at right now, but I'm excited for the opportunity."

Last year's plan didn't work. Donovan McNabb flopped as the quarterback. The 4-3 defensive personnel didn't fit into new coach Mike Shanahan's 3-4. And Shanahan decided, one year later, that the best thing would be to bring in new players: Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Josh Wilson, Chris Chester, Tim Hightower and a slew of rookie receivers. A couple of quarterbacks, John Beck and Rex Grossman, who were on the team last year now find themselves competing to be the starter at the most important position.

"The plan, at least the plan in free agency, was to get people who are solid football players but solid people as well, and who are young," Shanahan said. "The second year, you always have a good feel for what type of people fit into your scheme and what type of people you want to have on your football team. If the nucleus of your football team is guys with character who can play, you've got a good chance."

Most of the new additions are in their mid- to late-20s -- players who are already established in the league yet young enough that they can continue to grow as the team does over the next several years. They're men and players, Shanahan says, that he specifically targeted for that reason and for those he listed above. And the feeling around training camp is that this is a group of people looking to build something together.

"Of course, right now we're looking to win, but you want to build something with longevity," said safety O.J. Atogwe, a graybeard among the new additions at the ripe old age of 30. "We want to have something that's sustainable, and I believe that's what Coach Shanahan is doing, getting good character guys in here, younger guys. You're building the nucleus of a team that can be a contender for years and years to come."

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Who's the quarterback? Shanahan surprised a lot of people by not taking a quarterback in the draft. He surprised a lot more people shortly thereafter, when he declared that he believed Beck, who was already on the team, could be the starter. He has since moved to include Grossman as a candidate for that spot, but neither has inspired much confidence outside of the Redskins' offices.

Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, insist that they loved Beck when he was coming out of college and was picked 40th in the 2007 draft. They believe he continues to show the same qualities they liked when they watched him then -- athleticism, mobility, quick release, natural leadership ability -- and that the only reason he hasn't had NFL success is because he hasn't had NFL opportunity. They insist they like Grossman, who operated their offense last year at least as well as, if not better than, McNabb did. The sense I got from hanging around the Redskins for a few days is that the coaches are more concerned about the pieces around the quarterback -- the line, the receivers, the backs -- than they are about the quarterback position itself. Speaking of which ...

[+] EnlargeSantana Moss
AP Photo/Evan VucciSantana Moss returns, but the receiver depth chart behind him is a bit muddled.
2. To whom will that quarterback throw? Santana Moss is back, and the team added veteran wideouts to the mix in Jabar Gaffney amd Donte' Stallworth. But in order to be successful, the Redskins' offense must get a jolt from one or more of the inexperienced receivers on the roster. Anthony Armstrong showed something late last year, and he'll be pushed by rookies Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, as well as by holdover Malcolm Kelly, a 2008 second-rounder. Running back Hightower can be a weapon in the passing game, and the best receivers on the roster outside of Moss may be tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. But because of concerns about the offensive line and whether it can come together in short order, those guys may end up doing a lot of blocking.

3. Do they have the defense down yet? Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last year that it would take two years for the 3-4 install to work because it takes that long for players to re-train their minds and bodies around it. Adding in players better suited to the 3-4 than the people they had here last year should help, but new players such as Cofield, Bowen and rookie Ryan Kerrigan are experiencing the defense for the first time. The Redskins have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball and could be good there in short order. But they're still in a learning process, and how good they are on defense this year will depend on the speed with which they learn it.

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION

The story of last year's Redskins training camp was disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and his distaste for what he believed would be his assignment in the new 3-4 defense. Haynesworth's refusal to be open to the switch led to a drawn-out confrontation between him and Mike Shanahan, the conditioning-test mess and a feud that lasted all the way through the season. Trading Haynesworth to New England (and McNabb to Minnesota) was one of the first things the Redskins did when the lockout ended, and the main reason they did it was because they were determined not to let last year's problems infect this year's training camp. It hasn't. Without naming names, London Fletcher laughed when I told him Cofield, who played in a 4-3 in New York, had told me he was excited to make the switch to a 3-4 nose tackle.

"That's good, to hear that he's excited about it," Fletcher said, chuckling. "I want a nose that's excited about playing that position."

EXTRA PREPARATION

Fletcher, Beck and Lorenzo Alexander organized some of the most frequent and best-attended player workouts of any team during the lockout. Fletcher said the three of them divvied up administrative responsibilities such as calling guys to make sure they were coming and reaching out to local schools to see about the use of fields. Fletcher said there was one time he flew in the day before one of the workouts and went over on a whim to check out the high school field on which they were scheduled to practice only to find it unacceptable and have to make a last-minute change.

"We had some great turnout, got some great work in," Fletcher said. "Obviously it's not what we're getting here now, but it was important for us. What upsets me a little bit is when we have something that we did in our player-only camps, and we don't cover it correctly out here. I'll see somebody do something wrong and I want to yell out, 'Man, we worked on that!'"

Maybe, but the coaching staff appreciates that the players took the time to work out together while they weren't permitted to work out with coaches at the team facility. Kyle Shanahan said he notices it with those young wide receivers.

"We weren't able to work with them, so that was one of the positions I was worried the most with," he said. "And I could tell that Rex and John had gotten with these guys and given them some stuff, and I could tell these guys had put in their work before they got here, so we weren't just speaking Chinese to them."

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Alexander is an extremely valuable guy to the Redskins' defense. He has lined up at all four linebacker spots, could start the season on the outside if first-round pick Kerrigan isn't ready and has been lining up inside next to Fletcher, as well. Even with the return of Rocky McIntosh, expect Alexander to find his way onto the field a lot.
  • Tim Hightower isn't here just for depth. I believe, after talking to Mike Shanahan, that Hightower is the clear front-runner for the starting running back job as long as his fumble problems don't follow him to Washington from Arizona.
  • Ryan Torain, at least before he hurt himself, seemed to be working on his role in pass protection, which was something he didn't do much of last year. He'll have to if he wants to keep up with Hightower, for whom that's a strength.
  • Second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins has been one of the eye-openers in camp and should fit nicely into the defensive line rotation. "He's learning so fast," offensive tackle Trent Williams told me, "it's almost scary."
  • Beck may look good to the coaches who loved his college tape, but if you were out there watching the first week of practice, you saw a lot of receivers reaching behind themselves to catch his passes and a lot of wobble on the deep downfield throws. He does look good when he scrambles and runs, but as a passer, he looks as if he needs more camp.
  • Trent Williams looks slimmed down from last year and has looked good in his win-some, lose-some battles with Orakpo in early drills.

Wednesday Beastlines

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
10:40
AM ET
Let's take a quick spin around the division this morning:

Cowboys
Eagles
Giants
Redskins

Redskins trade for LB, then cut him

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
6:50
PM ET
In one of the weirdest moves of the preseason, the Washington Redskins traded a conditional draft pick for linebacker Hall Davis on Monday and then released him after one practice Tuesday. Davis was a seventh-round pick for the St. Louis Rams.

Safety Lendy Holmes, offensive lineman Edwin Williams and long snapper James Dearth were the other cuts as the Redskins got down to 75 players on the roster. Also some interesting things are being said about wide receiver Malcolm Kelly's hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve Tuesday.

More on that in the coming days.

Redskins-Jets: What did we learn?

August, 28, 2010
8/28/10
6:30
AM ET
Against all odds, it appears that Albert Haynesworth and Mike Shanahan have made nice -- at least for one evening. Haynesworth entered the game early in the first half and played some snaps with the starters. He even cracked a couple jokes in the postgame locker room.

"I'm going over to dinner at his house, probably tonight," Haynesworth said. "Gonna sit and have a cigar and talk."

The Skins beat the Jets, 16-11, an odd final score that was aided by a missed Nick Folk extra point. I didn't get to see the game, but we can still link to some folks who did:

Devin Thomas isn't backing down

August, 11, 2010
8/11/10
1:10
PM ET
Redskins wide receiver could have been humiliated by his third-team status on the Redskins' latest depth chart, but he's apparently taking things in stride. The former Michigan State star thinks coach Mike Shanahan may be sending him a message.

"I'm not listening to all the stuff that's out there or in the papers or whatever, I'm just doing what I need to do on the field, what the coaches tell me I need to do, because that's all that matters," said Thomas on Wednesday. "Coach Shanahan expects a lot and I expect a lot from myself.

"When you see that [the depth chart], that's Coach Shanahan showing you there's a lot you need to do to get to that level he wants you to play. I know how hard I'm working and I know I just need to keep going out there and competing every day. [The depth chart] is just for now. Nothing is set yet. We'll see what happens."

That's a good response from Thomas. I can't imagine him remaining behind the likes of Joey Galloway and Roydell Williams on the depth chart, but he needs to start making his move now. Shanahan has reminded Malcolm Kelly and Thomas that nothing will be handed to them based on potential.

Now, Kelly desperately needs to get back on the practice field. His hamstring issues are becoming an annual theme in training camp.

Camp Confidential: Washington Redskins

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
12:33
PM ET
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 20

ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.

Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.

“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”

It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).

Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.

With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Donovan McNabb is working on building a rapport with his new group of receivers.
1. Can Donovan McNabb elevate this pedestrian group of receivers to new heights? There’s a reason that Santana Moss seems to have a perpetual smile on his face these days. He didn’t even have time to complete routes last season because of the Redskins’ woeful offensive line. Now, coaches are showing him film of the Texans’ Andre Johnson and saying he could do similar things. McNabb invited Moss and the rest of the receivers to work out with him in Phoenix early last month, and you can already see the benefits on the playing field.

“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”

But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.

2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.

Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIRookie tackle Trent Williams has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
3. Have the Redskins solved their issues on the offensive line? I think a lot of this season hinges on whether three new additions to the line play well. Jammal Brown was a Pro Bowl player for the Saints at one point, but he hasn't played since '08. He'll have to knock off some rust while learning how to play right tackle. Rookie Trent Williams has a ton of ability, but he's working with a much thicker playbook now. There were questions about his work ethic at the University of Oklahoma. So far, he's said and done all the right things in Washington.

And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIAfter recording 581 yards last season, Larry Johnson is turning in a solid camp in Washington.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
  • Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
  • If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.

Willie Parker is fourth-string RB?

August, 9, 2010
8/09/10
4:00
PM ET
The Washington Redskins have posted a depth chart on their website, and veteran running back Willie Parker's not in the top three. Ryan Torain is currently listed as the third-team running back behind Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker has not been receiving a lot of reps, and his placement on the depth chart is not a good sign for the former Steelers star.

It's also worth noting that Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are listed as third-team players. Santana Moss and 38-year-old Joey Galloway are the starters at this point. I thought that Donovan McNabb might whip Thomas and Kelly into shape with his "Hell Week" outing in Phoenix, but neither player has apparently impressed Mike Shanahan and son Kyle. Kelly can't stay on the field because of injuries and Thomas is still too inconsistent.

At this pace, the Redskins could feature the NFL's all-time highest average age at the skill positions. Shanahan values experience, but having Galloway in the starting lineup is a little ridiculous. Someone needs to light a fire under Thomas and Kelly, and that may need to be McNabb.

I recently sat down with McNabb for a 20-minute conversation. You can read more about that in Tuesday's Redskins Camp Confidential.

Moss to Beast: '09 was my best season

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
5:00
PM ET
ASHBURN, Va. -- The fact that Santana Moss is one of the most dangerous downfield receivers in the league didn't really matter in 2009. By the time Moss reached top speed, quarterback Jason Campbell was usually in the clutches of a defensive end. And the fact that Jim Zorn had his play-calling duties stripped a few weeks into the season only served to make things more confusing.

That's why I was a little surprised Friday when Moss informed me that '09 might have been his best season as a pro. He averaged a career-low 12.9 yards per reception and only had three touchdowns. So I gave him a confusing look.

"I know it sounds crazy, but even when the going got tough, I was able to stand strong," said Moss. "I told Michael Irvin the same thing recently. I was nicked up really bad, but I just refused to fold my tail and give in to all the misery. I think it was important for the younger guys like Malcolm [Kelly] and Devin [Thomas] to see that it wasn't getting to me."

Moss said he kept telling his young teammates that something good was going to come out of the chaotic season. And when he heard the news about Mike Shanahan being hired, he simply looked at Kelly.

"I just kept telling them that something great was going to happen here," said Moss. "Things had gotten really dull around here and then 'boom!' the storm hit. Now, there's a completely different feeling about this team."

New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan asked Moss to watch film of Andre Johnson with the Texans. Shanahan had coached Johnson in Houston and watched him become one of the elite receivers in the league.

"He told me that some guys could only do one thing, but he said I could be like Andre and play inside or outside," said Moss on Friday. "I was fighting all these double and triple teams last year, but Kyle's not going to let that happen."

Moss has never been one to complain about not having a better complementary receiver. In fact, he spent 10 minutes bragging on veterans Joey Galloway, Roydell Williams and Bobby Wade.

"I think it's my job to get open," he said. "I've never looked at it like I need someone to help me get open."

Moss joined Donovan McNabb in Phoenix, Ariz., last month for "Hell Week" workouts. He says the chance to bond that week has given the receiving corps a head start coming into camp. I'll have much, much more from Moss in my upcoming Redskins Camp Confidential.

The Observation Deck: Redskins style

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
2:12
PM ET
ASHBURN, Va. -- If Albert Haynesworth ever qualifies to participate in one of Mike Shanahan's practices, I actually think he'd enjoy himself. Shanahan asks his players to pour everything they have into morning sessions before hosting jog-throughs in the afternoons. And judging from his red-faced appearance at today's news conference, the head coach is about ready for this episode to end.

The MRI on Albert Haynesworth's knee came back negative, and the Washington Post's Jason Reid reported Friday morning that the defensive lineman's tearing it up on the treadmill. So why can this man not make it through two 300-yard shuttle runs that were easily handled by ESPN's Mike Golic? Your guess is as good as mine. One reporter excitedly noted that Haynesworth had appeared to increase his work in individual drills Friday.

"He's been doing the same thing," snapped Shanahan. "He's been getting a few reps and individual work -- the same thing he's been doing."

When I sit down with Shanahan this evening, I'm not going to lead with Haynesworth. I'm going to ask the coach to compare this Redskins team to some of his Broncos teams. And I'm curious to pick his brain about why he thought Donovan McNabb was the perfect fit for the Redskins. The guy's not known for his accuracy, and that's something Shanahan values. Now let's take a look at what caught my eye in practice Friday morning:
  • I talked to one longtime Redskins reporter who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's feeling really good early in camp. He's finishing off every run and he's actually shown a burst at times. He also appears to be really comfortable with his new surroundings. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Willie Parker making this roster. He's not getting many reps and it just doesn't look like Shanahan's giving him much of a chance. Ryan Torrain is receiving more carries than Parker from what I can tell.
  • Mike Shanahan doesn't miss a beat during practice. During drills, he'll stand away from everyone and just study different things. He also takes mental notes of which players don't hustle between drills and calls out their names at the end of practice. Those players are forced to run extra sprints. As one local beat reporter put it, "The adults are in charge again." I liked Jim Zorn, but he probably gave his players too much latitude.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions. No matter who wins the starting role, the other guy will receive plenty of playing time. By the way, Carter told me after practice that he thinks David Diehl's the best left tackle he's faced in the Beast.
  • Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll send him on a lot more blitzes.
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. If Haynesworth passes the conditioning test in the next month or so, he'll likely see a lot of time at right defensive end.
  • Torrain could end up serving as the third-down back, but he can't drop a perfect swing pass as he did Friday.
  • When former Cowboys receiver Joey Galloway broke free on a deep ball, Haslett just about lost it. "How many [expletive] times do we have to do this?" he shoutd in the general direction of safety LaRon Landry. By the way, Landry has a very difficult time not destroying receivers across the middle -- even when players are in shorts. In Friday's morning session, Landry pulled up at the last possible moment when Chris Cooley caught a McNabb pass across the middle. It looks like one of Cooley's brothers (Taylor?) was conducting some interviews for the tight end's blog after practice. They were focusing on Santana Moss.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams. At this moment, Moss and Galloway are your starting wide receivers. I think it's the weakest part of this team, but Moss tried to convince me otherwise during a 20-minute visit following practice.
  • If you need a Rudy type player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red-zone target. But he's quick and appears to have good hands. I'm interested to see if he can make some plays in the preseason. I'd love to see the little fella get some reps returning punts. He's not very sturdy, though. He caught a short pass Friday and then a shove from cornerback Kevin Barnes almost sent him into a crowd of corporate folks. I think a stiff wind might have the same effect on young Banks.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Perhaps Henson realizes that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin will do something similar to his Frogs in Week 3. Beck botched a handoff to Portis in Friday's practice. He didn't last with the Dolphins because of a side-arm motion that led to a lot of balls being deflected. If Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee can't fix a problem, then I'm skeptical of the quarterback having much of a future in the league. Lee has worked with Tony Romo, Chad Henne and Tim Tebow (Senior Bowl).
  • Haslett is trying to change the mentality of this defense. You'll hear the word "strip" over and over again in practice. Haslett wants one defender to strip the ball and another to come over the top and go for the scoop. There's an emphasis on takeaways in almost every drill.
  • Shanahan thinks that Jammal Brown and Malcolm Kelly will return to practice Monday, but he's not certain about that. I get the feeling that the Redskins are starting to lose patience with Kelly, who is nursing a tight hamstring. Late in Friday's practice, the receiver would've broken away from the peloton had he not been on a stationary bike. It's not like the guy has a bad attitude or anything. McNabb and Moss have both taken a special interest in the former Oklahoma star, but he has a hard time staying on the field.
  • Grapevine, Texas, native Richard Bartel continues to throw the ball well in practice. Everyone's focused on Beck since he arrived, but Bartel's the backup who seems to take advantage of every rep.
  • Brian Orakpo said he had some lofty personal goals for this season, but he's not willing to go on the record at this point. He spent much of our conversation talking about the Big 12 finding a way to stay together. With Nebraska defecting to the Big 10, Orakpo says this year's game between his Texas Longhorns and Adam Carriker's Cornhuskers will carry added significance. "I'm still trying to recover from when they almost beat us," said Orakpo, referring to the Big 12 title game.
  • Safety Kareem Moore is having an excellent training camp and it will be tough to keep him off the field. The Redskins have actually developed some nice depth at safety. But on that topic, I'm not sure what's happened to Chris Horton. Two years ago, he took the league by storm when injuries forced him onto the field. Now, he's barely getting any reps in practice.
  • I thought left tackle Trent Williams looked pretty quick in team drills. He tweaked his hip a little bit in practice, but Shanahan thinks he'll be fine.

Thursday Beastlines: Day 1 for Skins

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
11:06
AM ET
At the end of the day, we'll have three teams in training camp, although the Eagles veterans don't show up until Friday. The Giants will open camp in Albany on Sunday afternoon. Let's take a look at some of the top headlines from all four teams:

Cowboys
Eagles
Giants
Redskins

Shanahan's training camp debut

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
9:59
AM ET
The Washington Redskins will hold their first training camp practice later this afternoon and we're hoping to visit with a player via phone after they wrap things up. The bad news for Skins fans is that wide receiver Malcolm Kelly will miss the first two days of camp with a sore hamstring, according to the Post.

Kelly and Devin Thomas are both entering their third seasons and it's time for them to show some consistency. I thought Thomas had the edge on Kelly to earn a starting role opposite Santana Moss this season, and Kelly's absence will only strengthen those chances. Kelly reportedly tweaked the hamstring during "Hell Week" with Donovan McNabb in Arizona.

Big Question: McNabb ready?

June, 29, 2010
6/29/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Should we expect Donovan McNabb to hit the ground running this season?

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
AP Photo/Nick WassThe Redskins are counting on Donovan McNabb to lead them out of the NFC East cellar.
Some folks immediately gave the Washington Redskins six more wins when they traded for McNabb. That seemed a little on the optimistic side after witnessing this offensive line's performance last season. And it's not like Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas have truly arrived at wide receiver.

But there's also this little thing about McNabb having to learn Mike Shanahan's offense while blending with his new teammates. It seems like everyone automatically assumes that McNabb won't have much of a learning curve because he's been one of the league's top quarterbacks. But I think there will be some growing pains.

He could run Andy Reid's offense in his sleep, and from time to time, that's what it looked like. On the positive side, though, McNabb will operate with a true running game for the first time in years. Shanahan believes in his zone-blocking scheme and he's going to stay with it longer than most coaches.

I think that will make McNabb a more dangerous quarterback and he might not feel as much pressure to carry the offense. When he was with the Eagles, McNabb would often invite his receivers to Phoenix to work out with him. He needs to be establishing that type of rapport with his new teammates.

The Redskins appear to have a good thing at tight end with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, but they're a mixed bag at wide receiver. Even if Santana Moss can move past his association with a doctor accused of smuggling performance-enhancing drugs across the border, he's going to have to show more consistency on the field. Jason Campbell rarely had enough time in the pocket to find Moss racing downfield.

Moss has to hope that Shanahan and son can revitalize his career. He also needs to be connected at the hip with McNabb during training camp. Most players don't suddenly get the opportunity to play with an elite quarterback. But for the ones who do (ask Sidney Rice about it), it can elevate their careers.

I think McNabb makes the Redskins better, but there will be plenty of bumps along the way.

On the radar: Skins' O-line

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

In some precincts, the Redskins' stunning trade for Donovan McNabb automatically put them in the playoffs. My colleague John Clayton has said he sees the Cowboys and Redskins as the teams to beat in the rugged NFC East. But for some reason, I haven't been converted to the Skins-in-the-playoffs theory, and I'll tell you why.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireWashington's Trent Williams has to work on his blocking, one of the many issues on the Redskins' O-line.
I don't trust that offensive line one bit.

It's nothing personal. Watching Mike Williams return to football after eating himself out of the league has been heartening. And 32-year-old Casey Rabach does a decent job at center. But in the end, I don't think McNabb can hold up behind this offensive line as currently constructed. It's not like Mike Shanahan can take a beast like Williams and turn him into a cut blocker who opens up lanes for Clinton Portis. And Portis was a much younger man when he was darting through cutback lanes with the Broncos last decade.

The other Williams on the line, Trent, has the tools to be a special player. But he still has to learn the nuances of the NFL game while trying to block DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Trent Cole. As Bill Parcells liked to say, "this will not go smoothly." It's almost like everyone forgot about the beatings that Jason Campbell took on a weekly basis.

This isn't the McNabb who used to race around and extend plays by 10 seconds or so against the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football." He can slide around the pocket, but it's not like he speeds away from defenders on a regular basis. I'll point to his last two games against Dallas as Exhibits A and B. With center Jamaal Jackson out, the Eagles had to slide players around in the middle. The results against the Cowboys were disastrous.

For now, the Redskins have Artis Hicks lining up as the starting right tackle. To me, that means that Shanahan and his son, Kyle, aren't sold on Stephon Heyer. Most of us expected him to hold down that position. And the Mike Williams vs. Chad Rinehart battle at right guard isn't riveting stuff. Neither player would start for the three other teams in the division.

I certainly agree with the pundits who say the Redskins are better off with McNabb. He'll make Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly better receivers. And the combination of Fred Davis and Chris Cooley should be the best tandem in the Beast. But I don't like the thought of putting aging running backs behind a suspect offensive line.

At this point, the Redskins have the worst offensive line in the division and I don't see the Shanahan boys' zone-blocking scheme changing that right away. Could I be wrong about this?

There's always that slight chance.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider