Devin Thomas knows the stakes.
Drafted by one front office under a different head coach, he also understands that time grows short if he's to establish himself as a difference-maker for the Redskins.
This isn't uncommon for receivers. It's a position fraught with difficult adjustments from the college level to pro and one with a significant history of failure by high draft picks.
The third preseason game of his third season looms. Starters should get significant snaps on Friday night against the New York Jets and he is not yet one of them.
What he does and how well he does it may indicate what role he plays going forward here.
"This is the game where you get a lot more time in, probably see first-teamers a lot more, so this is the time to step up," says Thomas.
Thomas sits third on the Redskins' depth chart at the X receiver spot, the split end. He's behind Joey Galloway, a 15-year veteran in his first go-round with the Redskins and Anthony Armstrong, one of the preseason stars despite never having caught a pass in a regular-season NFL game.
The Redskins drafted Thomas in the second round of the 2008 draft, one marked by this peculiarity – it was the first since 1990 when no receiver was taken in the first round.
That '08 draft yielded a stunted crop. Ten receivers went in the second round.
DeSean Jackson made an immediate impact with the Philadelphia Eagles while Jerome Simpson has struggled, played sparingly and has one career catch. Eddie Royal flashed as a rookie for the Denver Broncos and then retreated while James Hardy could not get on the field for the Buffalo Bills.
"The hardest part is figuring out a way to just get the ball," Thomas says. "The coaches have to put you in a situation to get the ball and you have to handle that situation. Some guys, when they get the ball, maybe they don't make the plays. Or maybe they have guys ahead of them."
All true, for him and those others.
Thomas has had his moments this preseason but that's what they've been – singular bits. He caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman in the opening 42-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills and he has four receptions for 78 yards. He has returned two kickoffs, but fumbled one of them.
The search for consistency continues.
"I feel like I'm about to break out of the shell," he says. "I feel like I'm getting closer to the goal of having a complete game without mistakes and each game is getting better."
Thomas started 10 games last season and one as a rookie. His two-season line: 40 catches, 445 yards, three touchdowns, all of them last season. Not exactly knock-out numbers. Not exactly weird, either.
"I don't feel like I'm struggling at all," Thomas says. "I haven't really been featured yet. It's kind of hit or miss, here or there. I'm still waiting on my time to be featured. And I really feel like that's how it is for the majority of receivers. There's a lot of talented receivers out there. They just don't get the chance to be showcased."
Consider some of the other receivers taken in that '08 draft. Thomas' teammate, Malcolm Kelly, has 28 catches. His hamstring injury has kept him out of all but one practice since training camp opened.
Limas Sweed, chosen by the Pittsburgh Steelers, hasn't started a single game, has seven catches and will miss this season with a knee injury. Royal, who had 91 receptions as a rookie, made only 37 in 2009. Hardy has 10 career receptions. Dexter Jackson lasted one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was waived and picked up by the Carolina Panthers … for their practice squad.
At a well-muscled 6-2 and 218 pounds, Thomas possesses the classic measureables. In two seasons at Michigan State, he caught 85 passes for 1,350 yards and set a single-season mark as a junior (when he produced 79 of those receptions) with 2,590 all-purpose yards.
"I see flashes of Devin doing good, then I see a dropped pass, then I see a spectacular catch. That's the thing with Devin – consistency," cornerback Carlos Rogers says. "You know he can play. He's a good athlete. He's strong, he's fast, he's bigger than I don't know what. Once he puts all that together, the sky's the limit for Devin."
The Redskins currently carry 10 receivers. Rookies Terrence Austin and Brandon Banks also figure as either kickoff or punt returners and Banks has scored on a 77-yard punt return. Santana Moss is the starting flanker. Armstrong continues to produce, building on strong off-season work. Veterans Roydell Williams and Bobby Wade possess significant experience in the NFL, though neither has ever been his team's marquee target.
Ten guys. The Redskins might carry six on their final 53-man roster.
Thomas' time has come. His career doesn't hinge on the Jets game but the size and scope of his role going forward may. He knows it.
"Consistency," Thomas says. "Just strong consistency. Showing them I can consistently make those big plays."
He's saying all the right things. Now he must do them.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.