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Wide Receiver Competition Still Needs Clarity

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The Redskins threw 33 passes and completed 18 in their preseason debut. They targeted 14 different players and 11 made receptions. Oddly, only five of them were from that numbers-heavy group of receivers.

Devin Thomas, Bobby Wade, Terrence Austin, Anthony Armstrong and Roydell Williams combined for 10 grabs. How much each one helped himself depends on more factors than those elemental statistics.

Williams, who had never before in seven NFL seasons played special teams, is doing so and recovered a fumble. Thomas fumbled a kickoff but caught a 44-yard touchdown pass and executed the block that helped spring Brandon Banks for his 77-yard punt return. Armstrong caught a touchdown pass and made a block on a downfield dash by Ryan Torain.

Are we close to clarity as to how this group will eventually shake down? Probably not. The final roster, so far as receivers go, may not be set until it actually is.

"What guy can play special teams? What guy can go on the practice squad? A lot goes into the final 53," hed coach Mike Shanahan said on Monday. "If you're the fourth, fifth or sixth receiver, it's obviously an advantage if you can play special teams."

Two things seem certain in this group. Mike Furrey's lingering concussion seems to have almost eliminated him from contention. Malcolm Kelly's problematic hamstring continues to allow others to get his practice reps and playing time.

The Redskins hoped Kelly would return to practice on Tuesday but Shanahan nixed that.

While he said that Kelly is "doing everything we ask him to do" in terms of rehab, he can't practice. Shanahan put the hamstring's condition at "50 to 60 percent" and he was blunt when asked if all the down time left Kelly in danger.

"Well, obviously," Shanahan said. "If he can't practice, he can't show me anything."

That wasn't as cold as it sounded. Shanahan said he well understood the nature of hamstring pulls and that he expected Kelly back next week when two preseason games remain. Yet time marches on and so do other players.

Armstrong scored the first touchdown of the Redskins' 42-17 beating of Buffalo, pulling in a four-yard pass from Donovan McNabb. He was the hot read with McNabb under pressure and he made the catch in traffic and got the ball into the end zone.

"I wanted to make that play. As receivers we have to make big plays to pick up the tempo and being able to get in there and getting in the end zone lifts everybody up," he said.

He also showed something else the coaches want – downfield blocking. He didn't get every bit of his man but enough to help Torain gain 15 yards.

"That's just one of the questions you have to answer being a receiver that's not necessarily so big," the 5-11, 185-pound Armstrong said. "They're always going to question your physicality. I wish I had got him off his feet but I did good enough to spring him for at least another couple of yards and I'll work on that for the next time."

Thomas led the team in receiving, catching three passes for 64 yards, including the deep-strike touchdown from Rex Grossman in the third quarter. He fumbled the opening kickoff but then contributed the block on Banks' return. A mixed bag.

Memories of the touchdown will linger but Thomas said he thought his block might have been more critical.

"I had to do my part and I know Banks' ability to make big plays. I just got enough of the guy to make him stumble," he said.

Deciphering the depth chart won't be easy. Certainly not with only one game completed and Kelly not yet practicing. Those who are losing ground still can make it up and those who seem to be leading must maintain their edge.

"We have a good group of guys, they're hard working and they played pretty good the first game. We can get better. That's what practice is about," receivers coach Keenan McCardell said. "Training camp is not over."

Decidedly not. The biggest battles have yet to be fought and won.


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.*

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