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Redskins' receivers need to catch on
GRANT PAULSEN: Zorn's Redskins must use receivers more

Date published: 6/29/2008

JIM ZORN has a to-do list longer than anything Cinderella ever stuck on her refrigerator. But if the Washington Redskins' rookie head coach is smart, he'll make getting major contributions from his wide receivers his chief priority.

The Zorn era officially begins when the team opens training camp at its headquarters in Ashburn in three weeks. In the old days, a new coach would have to spend the first week of camp solidifying himself as the boss.

These days, with organized team activities that last most of the offseason and minicamps during the spring, a new boss like Zorn doesn't waste training-camp time doing that. The players already respect him.

Zorn now can focus on getting the ball into the hands of Washington's refurbished receiving corps. Santana Moss is entering his fourth season as the Redskins' top receiver. Antwan Randle El returns for his third season in D.C.

Washington also added a pair of rookies in the draft who should play major roles in the Redskins' offense.

Devin Thomas, considered by some the draft's best receiver prospect, was Washington's first choice at No. 34 overall. The 22-year-old is coming off of a 79-catch, 1,260-yard season at Michigan State.

Malcolm Kelly, selected 17 picks later, also should make major contributions. He is two inches taller than Thomas, at 6-4 and 220 pounds, which should allow the former Oklahoma Sooner to make plays in the red zone.

Thomas could break camp as Washington's No. 2 receiver. If he does, Randle El could return to the slot, where he is most comfortable and more valuable.

Last year, the Redskins used their receivers as regularly as Floridians use snow shovels. Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley led the team in catches. And running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined for 68 receptions, seven more than any receiver.

It took almost three months for a Redskins wide-out to catch a touchdown pass last year. Considering that the team has a strong-armed quarterback in Jason Campbell, that should shock you.

But Campbell's arm had nothing to do with the receivers' struggles. The main reason was play-calling. No offense keeps defensive coordinators awake at night without having a group of game-changing receivers.

The Redskins may have possessed that last year, but didn't take advantage of it. They certainly have the athletes and playmakers to win games through the air this year, and it's going to be up to Zorn to ensure that they involve those athletes.

Grant Paulsen can be reached at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, or by fax at 540/373-8455.