Alexander Scouts Tampa Bay Special Teams
In this week's installment of Special Teams Saturday with Lorenzo Alexander, we'll take a look at Tampa Bay Pro Bowl returner Clifton Smith and examine the long-term potential of wide receiver Devin Thomas as a returner.
At 0-3, the Buccaneers, obviously, are off to an awful start. In last week's 24-0 loss to the New York Giants at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay had 86 total net yards. The Giants' special teams did an excellent job containing Smith, who in only his second season is among the game's best return men.
As a rookie, Smith made the Pro Bowl after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. For the first seven weeks of the 2008 season, Smith was on the Buccaneers' practice squad. After being promoted to the 53-man roster, Smith quickly emerged as a force in the return game.
In his second game, Smith returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. A couple of weeks later, he also returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown.
Smith accumulated 992 yards on kickoff returns in only nine games and had a 27.6-yard average. He had three returns of 40 or more yards and also was consistently productive on punt returns with a 14.1-yard average and two returns of at least 40 yards.
"He's a very hard tackle," Alexander said. "He's a small guy [Smith is listed at 5 feet 9, 190 pounds], so he's very quick and agile. He can hit the seams, but he also can break some tackles. We have to focus on getting him down."
Against the Giants, Smith averaged 28 yards on two kickoff returns and 13 yards on three punt returns. Smith was unable to provide a spark for the Buccaneers' offense, but the Redskins are well aware of his big-play potential, Alexander said.
"It's just really about executing your assignments and doing what you've been told to do," he said. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith "does a great job getting us prepared for what we'll see out there, so we just have to execute."
The Redskins (1-2) were effective again on teams in their Week 3 game against the Detroit Lions, but the Lions still ended their losing streak at 19 with a 19-14 victory at Ford Field. Now it's the Buccaneer who are looking to get something started against the Redskins.
"I think they're having a lot of the same issues we're having," Alexander said. "They've been driving the ball, but they haven't been able to score a lot of points. The first game they had  yards of offense [against the Dallas Cowboys], then  yards of offense [against the Buffalo Bills].
"In this last game, they didn't do so well. But they're moving the ball. And on teams, the biggest thing that we see on film is that they can run. They're also real physical, so we've got to be able to get on our guys. They're going to come down and hit that wedge and really try to trap us on the kickoff and really try to out-physical us."
Although teams co-captain Rock Cartwright still is the Redskins' primary kickoff returner, it appears the coaches have plans for Thomas to do more on teams. Thomas, who has one return for 21 yards this season, has the type of speed to become productive in the role. As a senior at Michigan State, Thomas ranked 11 th in the nation with a 29.1-yard average.
"One of the biggest things is, I've really seen him grow up over this past year," Alexander said of Thomas. "He's matured, and I think he understands the work ethic he needs to put into practice.
"The first week, he wasn't on special teams. But these last couple of weeks, he's been out there really practicing. He's been practicing hard and focusing."
Other Important Stuff to Know for Tomorrow
If you're going to the game, the Capital Weather Gang says the day will be beautiful. The traffic, no doubt, will be more like Elephant Man and there will be a bit of a complication that could lead to the first real traffic shabingus of the season: the Army Ten-Miler. Dr. Gridlock (not his real name) has the deets.
By now, you know to follow @RedskinsInsider, @HyperSkins, @JReidPost, @RickMaese, @BarrySvrluga, @dcsportsbog, @TraceeHamilton, and @MikeWiseguy.
This week, though, we're adding a new Twitter stream for those at FedEx. To appear on the page on our site, tweets have to include #Redskins and #wp. If you put the section number after #wp, it will show up in that section (ie, #wp 345").
Paul Tenorio will be chatting live (let's hope he's live...) after the game.
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