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Non PED-related observations and notes from Redskins’ OTA

The media buzz at today’s OTA session was yesterday’s New York Times report linking a Redskins player to a Canadian doctor who is charged with illegal human growth hormone distribution. However, the Redskins did manage to practice football for two hours this morning.

Before I get to my football-related observations, a disclaimer: I must remind you, once again, that it’s May. The Redskins aren’t allowed to wear pads and hit until training camp. They’re more focused on installing the offense and defense than actual execution. I cannot stress this enough.

(Did I mention it’s May?!)

And with that in mind, here’s what I saw this morning.

**LB Chris Wilson was impressive going toward the line of scrimmage and away from it. On one play, he dropped in 12 yards in coverage toward the left sideline and undercut a throw from QB Rex Grossman. Wilson got both hands on it and should have intercepted it, but he moved well in his drop and made the right read. Wilson also easily ripped past RT Stephon Heyer to the outside in a team drill and would have had a sack in a game situation.

Wilson will be an intriguing player to watch in camp this summer. He’s a solid special teams contributor, and he made the transition from defensive end to linebacker last season—which basically gave him a year’s head start on learning the 3-4 principles he’ll have to apply this season. Some mistakes he made last season were due to inexperience, but he still flashed a bit on third downs. It’ll be interesting to see how refined his play is as he gets more snaps.

**Speaking of Heyer, he didn’t move well when I was watching him. He appears heavy, slow and stiff, and his footwork reflected that. OLB Brian Orakpo easily disengaged from Heyer’s punch during a team drill and would have had a sack. And there was the aforementioned battle with Wilson. At this point, I’m wondering if Heyer’s knees are still bothering him because he did not look right. I realize that he struggled in game situations last season, but this appeared worse than that.

**WR Anthony Armstrong has some legitimate speed. He beat a safety on a flag route in team drills and was open downfield, though he barely failed to get both feet in bounds after QB Donovan McNabb’s throw arrived right at the sideline. Armstrong also ran 10 yards past S Chris Horton, but Grossman’s deep throw went off his finger tips.

The Redskins see some potential in Armstrong, who ended last season on the practice squad. He’ll be in the mix to return kicks going forward, which is a key reason that the club kept him over Marko Mitchell. He’ll need to turn some of those near-completions into actual ones, though. He’s also a bit small. His listed height of 5-11 appears generous.

**TE Chris Cooley got some nice separation in one-on-one drills against S Lendy Holmes. Cooley is moving well and appears fully recovered from his broken ankle.

**Now for your regular Colt Brennan report: Everyone’s favorite QB had a very nice play where he hit TE Fred Davis near the left hash on an intermediate route after checking through his progressions. It was a great read. Earlier, Brennan underthrew a flag route to Davis. For what it’s worth, Grossman was the second quarterback taking reps.

**WR Malcolm Kelly made a couple of athletic, leaping attempts for passes. With McNabb rolling right during red-zone work, he lofted a ball into the corner of the end zone that Kelly outjumped CB Kevin Barnes for and made the catch. Kelly also made a nice catch on a slant in traffic against CB Phillip Buchanon.

After practice, Mike Shanahan was asked for his impressions of Kelly and fellow third-year WR  Devin Thomas, considering that they are still striving to meet expectations. “It’s the time,” Shanahan said. “It’s going to be an interesting question here over the next three months. We have a number of wide receivers competing for a position, but I like what I’ve seen thus far.”

Thomas, by the way, practiced today after missing most of the offseason practices so far with an ailing hamstring.

**OLB Brian Orakpo beat first-round pick LT Trent Williams with an outside rush during team drills. Afterward, Williams spent three minutes talking with offensive line coach Chris Foerster and coaching intern Chris Samuels on the sideline about hand placement and footwork.

“It doesn’t take him long when you’re going against some of the best outside linebackers in the league [to see] if the guy can compete on this level,” Shanahan said. “And he can compete. Saying that, there’s always going to be growing pains. It’s going to be a learning experience for him every day. I like the way he’s handled himself. He picks things up very quickly. We threw him in the fire right way and put him with the first unit, and I’ve been impressed so far.”

**WR Joey Galloway displayed his veteran experience on a broken play during team drills. With McNabb struggling to find an open receiver, Galloway slid to the left sideline and waited for McNabb to find him for a completion. The play probably would have been a throw-away or sack in a game situation, but it’s proof of what Galloway brings to the team.

**SS Chris Horton received some extra tutoring from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett coming off the field. After Armstrong ran past Horton on the deep play I mentioned above, Haslett yelled, “Stay on him!” to Horton. Horton has been working at strong safety behind LaRon Landry.

**RB Larry Johnson blew by fourth-round draft choice LB Perry Riley on a wheel route in one-on-one drills, but Riley recovered and broke up the underthrown pass even though he never got his head turned to find the ball. I’ll try to watch Riley more during next week’s OTA. By all accounts he’s known for his tackling, not necessarily his coverage skills.

**I saw Buchanon and WR Brandon Banks field punts during practice, though others might have done so at a session that occurred before media were allowed to watch. Punter Josh Bidwell crushed two of the four punts I saw. The other two weren’t as impressive.

Shanahan said after practice that he’s happy entering training camp with his current group of kickers (Graham Gano and Justin Medlock) and long snapper Nick Sundberg.

…Some other news and notes from practice:

**Shanahan said the Redskins are still talking to free agent RB Brian Westbrook. McNabb denied trying to influence the team to sign his former Philadelphia teammate.

**CB DeAngelo Hall and newly-signed DL Vonnie Holliday and did not attend practice because of excused absences related to their respective families, Shanahan said. Holliday, however, did practice on Monday and Tuesday this week.

“You’ve got to play within any scheme, and I think Holliday has done that,” Shanahan said. “He’s played the run extremely well. Five sacks last year in Denver playing a limited amount of plays. But I’ve observed him both in the three-man front and the four-man front. I think he fits into what we do very well.”

**Shanahan said he has not been involved in any dialogue involving the pursuit of executive Doug Williams. Williams, you’ll recall, was the Redskins’ hero of Super Bowl XXII and recently departed Tampa Bay’s front office.