Alexander stresses special teams' need to improve
Despite Washington's poor production on punt returns and Coach Jim Zorn's comments earlier in the week about his intention to shake up the returner lineup, slot receiver Antwaan Randle El has retained his role as the primary returner for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, Zorn said. Randle El will receive more help from cornerback DeAngelo Hall and top receiver Santana Moss, though Zorn would not reveal how much. This can only mean one thing: it's time for another installment of "Special Teams Saturday with Lorenzo Alexander."
Okay, so what's the deal with the punt-return game?
"We've just all got to do a better job," Alexander said. "No matter who's back there, whether it's El, DeAngelo or Santana, we have to give them a chance to make some plays back there. That's just the bottom line."
In an interview Monday, Zorn said the team planned to expand Hall's role as a punt returner, using him more than Randle El - the team's primary returner the last four seasons - while also continuing to occasionally turn to top Santana Moss in a change-of-pace role. Zorn said Hall "probably" would handle the first punt return against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome and be used more than Randle El during the game. On Tuesday, Zorn reaffirmed the situation had changed while answering questions during his ESPN 980 radio show.
On Wednesday, however, Zorn said nothing had changed and Randle El still was atop the depth chart. In Randle El's final year in Pittsburgh, 2005, he averaged 10.2 yards per return. In his first year in Washington, that number dropped to 8.8 yards. In 2007, it was 6.1, and in 2008, it was 6.5. And this year: 5.2 yards on his 11 returns, which does not count his 11 fair catches or his two fumbles. Only one player, Jim Leonhard of the New York Jets, has more fair catches with 12.
Regardless of how many returns Hall handles, he could provide a boost, Alexander said. "When you've got an athlete like that, and being able to utilize him like we've done with Santana in the past, it could" help, he said. "If you can create some big plays and get our offense going, we're always willing to try new things. If he can create that spark, why not put him back there, too?"
Randle El does not deserve all the blame for the team's failure to produce more on punt returns, Alexander said.
"A lot goes into it. A lot goes into getting a big return," he said. "How good is the punter? Does he get hang time? We've got to have good jams on the outside. We've got to hold up guys. One guy misses his block, I mean, El has to either fair catch it or catch and try to shake the guy, but those guys [opponents] are going to make plays, too. They get paid as well. It's not just on him."
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