After catching just 28 passes in 21 games during three frustrating years since he was drafted in the second round by the Washington Redskins in 2008, Malcolm Kelly was in an odd position during the third set of players-run practices last month in Northern Virginia: mentor.
The 24-year-old Longview, Tex. native was the senior member of the group of five receivers who took part in the Northern Virginia workouts as the NFL lockout continued to wipe out the formal offseason.
“It was kinda funny,” said Kelly, who’s used to being one of the youngest receivers. “(Tight end Chris Cooley was) saying, ‘Get the drills going and I really didn’t know what to do.”
No wonder, after missing 11 games his rookie year with a balky knee and all of last season with a hamstring that landed him on injured reserve.
“I really like Malcolm,” said John Beck, who’ll compete with Rex Grossman to be Washington’s starting quarterback. “He’s a big-bodied guy. He’s got strong hands, long arms. The injury bug kind of got him a little bit the past year and a half so it’s good to get him out here healthy.”
With the motivations of an expiring contract and a pronounced lack of proven receivers on the roster even if longtime No. 1 wideout Santana Moss re-signs, Kelly is going the extra mile this offseason. He ran routes for Beck for more than two hours on the Saturday before that third set of players-run practices and plans to train with Beck for a week (either locally or in San Diego) and with Grossman for a week in Tampa.
With Kelly and since-released 2008 second-rounder Devin Thomas having failed to produce, coach Mike Shanahan drafted receiver Terrence Austin last year and Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson this April.
And of course, the Redskins being the Redskins, don’t be surprised if they sign a free agent receiver such as Santonio Holmes of the New York Jets once the lockout ends.
“They’re always bringing in somebody, trying to see if somebody’s got something that you don’t have,” said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Kelly. “(So) I want to go out there and be the best player I can be. I’m healthy. I’m more explosive. I’ve lost 10-15 pounds. Any time you can shed weight as a receiver, it helps you get in and out of your breaks a little bit (better). If I can just go out there and play football while I’m healthy, I think (I’ll be fine).”
And then perhaps the 84-yard catch Kelly made in the 2009 finale won’t be a one-shot deal.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.