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Special Teams at the Bye

The Redskins are a good team, but not yet a great one. Which means they cannot afford to have less-than-elite special teams units and thrive, for the most part, given that they are often locked in tight games dictated by field position.

There is plenty of room for improvement. The punting game has been a subplot to the season, with the decision to keep rookie Durant Brooks and all, and even with Brooks released a few weeks back, there is still some cause for concern. New punter Ryan Plackemeier has been steadier and improve over time, but even he has misfired on a few and had another blocked at a crucial moment Monday night.

That block was not in any way his fault, but does highlight the importance of getting this part of the game up to speed. The Skins can't afford to give up blocks or big returns, and they need to generate more yardage from the punt-return game.

The Redskins rank dead last in net punting average and 31st overall in gross punting average, thanks largely to the Brooks experiment. The Redskins do a nice job covering punts for the most part - ranked in the top 10 - but the return game has not been explosive enough to switch the field. I would give Antwaan Randle El a rest from doing it on a regular basis, and let him be the change-of-pace guy to do it at a strategic moment, hoping to elicit some brilliance.

But catching 5-to-8 a game just isn't bringing anything out of him or the unit. And as much as Santana Moss is a home run hitter as a punt returner - as evidenced in the Detroit game - I think it's a luxury they cannot afford given how vital he is to the offense, how crucial it is to limit the possibility of ripping those hamstrings and the overall lack of secondary receiving options beyond him in the offense as presently constructed.

Also, the team seems too often to come close to downing a punt inside the 5, only for the ball to barely hop over the goal line. Receiver James Thrash used to excel at that role, and lately Plackememier has applied a little too much spin or gotten not enough hang time, to let Leigh Torrence pull the ball in, and sometimes Torrence seems to be a fraction late as well. A few more of those would go a long way.

Rock Cartwright has gone about doing his thing on kick returns - ranked ninth in the NFL - and making tackles all over the place, and the reality is that the Skins have several playmakers on teams. Rock, Khary Campbell, Mike Sellers, Torrence and others all have the ability to get theses units to the top of the league.

Shaun Suisham is having the best season by any Skins kicker in a long, long time. He's been accurate and excellent despite having to deal with multiple holders. His kickoffs were downright powerful early in the season and though that distance has tailed off a bit in recent weeks, he has become one of the club's strengths and someone who appears worthy of sticking around here for quite some time.

And no one shows more dedication to his craft than special teams coach Danny Smith, studying every nuance and tendency of opponents, breaking down every minute element of a punt or kick and preparing his players to be in position to make plays.

The potential for greater things is there, and, ultimately, might just be required if the Redskins are to play deep into January.

By Jason La Canfora  |  November 6, 2008; 7:34 AM ET
 
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Comments

Hail!

Posted by: TeeSkins | November 6, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

I think any time a punt is blocked it becomes a crucial point in the game.

Posted by: Original_etrod | November 6, 2008 7:57 AM | Report abuse

How about using Rock to return punts? ARE should only see limited action there!

Posted by: mburns134 | November 6, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

The more I think about special teams -- the more I think the (punt) blocking schemes are the root of the problem. I wonder if this is due to poor player execution or coaching?

The blocked punt on Monday was a blocking failure and the inability of the punt returners to gain positive yardage usually occurs because a defender is already in their face.

Moss scored a TD on an elusive run, but not due to effective blocking. ARE would gain more yards if he caught the ball and learned to run immediately north behind a blocking wedge...

Posted by: siris | November 6, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Reggie Roby

Posted by: brianlee720 | November 6, 2008 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Practice makes perfect, but sadly, our coaching staff and players feel differently. Sitting at home (or wherever) licking your wounds and feeling sorry for yourself breeds failure.

Posted by: captjim | November 6, 2008 7:15 AM | Report abuse

Practice DOES NOT make perfect, it makes HABIT. Big difference.

And if these players are tired and beat up, they won't be able to focus no matter how much they practice, and won't be sharp in their technique, which is why they need the rest. I think it's been pretty obvious that their having trouble staying focused, penalties have gone up, the little mental errors have gone up, all signs of being worn down.

They need the rest, period.

And I think "burst" is a bigger key for punt returns than on kick returns, Rock doesn't fit. I still say Tryon to be on punt and kick returns, that dude's got speed, and we all know that "speed kills", and it cannot be taught or coached, give him a shot. He was a beast in college on returns, so why not?

Posted by: craig2 | November 6, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

"Sitting at home (or wherever) licking your wounds and feeling sorry for yourself breeds failure"

Ok, you want to go there, then come correct and bring me some facts. Show me where, ANYWHERE it has been reported that ANY Redskin player was feeling sorry for themselves?? If you can't, then take your moronic agenda elsewhere.....

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 6, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Well, isn't this where hoarding draft picks and making room for them on the roster comes home to roost? We replaced justaguys like Ade Jimoh (!) and Vernon Fox with Tryon and Moore -- there's bound to be a learning curve, and with injuries it's quite possible some of these Teams guys simply don't get the reps they need.
Of the new guys, who've you seen on Teams making contributions? Thomas has been involved recently (but I don't recall seeing him early in the year)... Moore flashed there for a little while, but I don't recall seeing him the last couple of weeks... the last time I noticed Tryon was during preseason when they had him returning kicks... are Horton and Landry playing on Teams?

Posted by: daggar | November 6, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and how about Sleepy? Seems like TE would be a natural Teams contributor...

Posted by: daggar | November 6, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse


Why not work with Leigh Torrence, the fastest man on the Skins, to return punts?

Posted by: chuckster1936 | November 6, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Landry plays on teams for sure; Horton did early in the season, but I'm not as sure about right now.

Posted by: AppleScience | November 6, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

After reading that I had to go back and make sure the team is 6-3. You really need to let the Brooks thing go. Time to move as the team has.

JM220

Posted by: icetotalpackage | November 6, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

If we were winning games by a lot of points, it might be worth giving Tryon a look. But I don't trust him to make smart decisions and we can't afford to be put in worse field position or have balls put on the ground. At least ARE is reliable in making the catch, save for that one fumble earlier this season. Just gonna have to deal with that for the rest of the year. Sign or draft someone in the offseason.

Posted by: JasonLaTempleton | November 6, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Give PR duties to Thrash. Let ARE just focus on the WR duties for a while. Put Thomas in Thrash's place.

See how that works.

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 6, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I have to wonder whether all this special teams turmoil will jeopardize Danny Smith's job. Seems like he's been a rock on this staff, coming in with Gibbs II and generally being acknowledged as a delightful character. But this has been a rough season... not mentioned above are the two punt return TDs we've given up, both of which were like punches in the stomach... I'm pro-Smith in general, but this litany of teams mediocrity is not good.

Posted by: NateinthePDX | November 6, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Give PR duties to Thrash. Let ARE just focus on the WR duties for a while. Put Thomas in Thrash's place.

See how that works.

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 6, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Most logical argument I have seen here in a long time.

Posted by: SirAnonymoustheGreat | November 6, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I would give Antwaan Randle El a rest from doing it on a regular basis, and let him be the change-of-pace guy to do it at a strategic moment, hoping to elicit some brilliance.

By Jason La Canfora | November 6, 2008; 7:34 AM ET

I'm no coach, but I'm not aware of any juncture in a game where the Skins will need a guy to run around in circles and get tackled for a loss of 2 yards on a punt return. So I'm not sure what "brilliance" you'd be looking for from him...

Posted by: brownwood26 | November 6, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I'd still use S Moss as the occasional change of pace. ARE is not an upgrade over Thrash even occasionally.

Posted by: SirAnonymoustheGreat | November 6, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Jasno,

Teams messed up badly on the blocked punt. But you seem to have overlooked that they came up BIG on the opening kickoff when they recovered the onsides kick, setting us up for an easy field goal.

As for the two punt returns for TDs, at least one of those was on Durant Brooks. And teams, itself, returned a punt for a TD.

They don't exactly offset, but special teams is not as inept as you would have us believe.

Posted by: talent_evaluator | November 6, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

te, good call, that was a HUGE recovery made by Fincher...heads up by Smith having them ready/on alert for the onsides....

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 6, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

TE you know JLC wants to keep going after Vinny and point out how bad this 6-3 team is.

JM220

Posted by: icetotalpackage | November 6, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Of the new guys, who've you seen on Teams making contributions? Thomas has been involved recently (but I don't recall seeing him early in the year)... Moore flashed there for a little while, but I don't recall seeing him the last couple of weeks... the last time I noticed Tryon was during preseason when they had him returning kicks... are Horton and Landry playing on Teams?

Posted by: daggar | November 6, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse
I think Moore has been on punt coverage the last few games. And I thought I saw Tryon on coverage a couple of games ago. Not sure he was playing against stillers.

Posted by: frediefritz | November 6, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Why not work with Leigh Torrence, the fastest man on the Skins, to return punts?

Posted by: chuckster1936 | November 6, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Does he have the hands to catch and hold onto the ball?

Posted by: frediefritz | November 6, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm with you Nate. I like Danny Smith as a person however, a blocked punt and 2 punts for 6 is pretty abysmal. Other than Shuwan Suisham our Spec. Teams has suspect all year and as JLC pointed out it's not like we don't put some studs in their.

Posted by: Gweez | November 6, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

In my mind there are only four guys I'd feel comfortable returning punts:

Randel EL
Moss
Thrash
Cartwright

In that order, too. I just feel that it's too deep into the season to try and groom a guy like Tryon or Thomas into returners. The skins should wait until next year and start having Tryon or Thomas return punts and kickoffs in camp--get 'em acclimated.

I'd eventually like to see Justin Tryon returning kicks and punts. Tryon reminds me of Allen Rossum; not a really good position player (As of yet, anyway), but one helluva returner.

Posted by: RedDMV | November 6, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I have been disapointed on special teams on FG's. I feel like Smith does not go after FG blocks ever, if its 4th and 10 at the 35, I think that you can go for a block, few teams will risk going for a fake FG there. IT helps the other teams kicker to know that the block is not coming from the outside.

Posted by: alex35332 | November 6, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

In that order, too. I just feel that it's too deep into the season to try and groom a guy like Tryon or Thomas into returners. The skins should wait until next year and start having Tryon or Thomas return punts and kickoffs in camp--get 'em acclimated.

Posted by: RedDMV | November 6, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I suspect that they have been working both of them in practice since training camp started. And I suspect that they are just not comfortable inserting them into the lineup.

I like Danny Smith. Even though there have been a few poor plays this year, he is acknowledged as one of the best Teams coaches. I wouldn't even consider letting him go. He just needs to keep working with the players he has available. Remember, consistency is one of the most important things to building a powerhouse team for the long term.

Posted by: frediefritz | November 6, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

The Skins are no more beat up than any other NFL team at this point what about your div.rival the Cowboys, the coaching staff needs to "man up" and Danny Smith should seriously consider giving ARE a break on returning punts.Joe Bugel needs to give Stephon Heyer his job back at rt.tackle cut Sean Alexander,let Rock get some carries, as stated in an earlier blog why not let Justin Tryon do some returns what do you have to lose? last but not least Dan Synder;move the team back to DC.

Posted by: dargregmag | November 6, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Yes - we had Reggie Roby in the early 90's.

Posted by: HighPlainsDrifter | November 6, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

as stated in an earlier blog why not let Justin Tryon do some returns what do you have to lose?
Posted by: dargregmag | November 6, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

7 games

Posted by: Original_etrod | November 6, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

How about using Pete Kendall to return punts?

Posted by: DexterManley | November 6, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Hate to beat a dead horse, but...

Biggest disappointment: Sure, Jason Taylor was expected to contribute more than he has, but he has been hurt. Far more was expected from the team’s three second-round picks — WRs Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and TE Fred Davis — than they have contributed to date. Combined, they have caught seven passes for 61 yards and zero touchdowns in an offense that could use their talents. Thomas and Davis are playing more, but they haven’t had much impact.

-Pro Football Weekly

Posted by: ga8085 | November 6, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I vote for Rock Cartwright to return punts as well.

Posted by: marleyb313 | November 6, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

beeps

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 6, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I vote we just give up on returning punts and send 11 guys to block the punt

Posted by: alex35332 | November 6, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Wasn't Devin Thomas a punt returner in college. If you used all those draft picks I think we should use them.

Posted by: C70882 | November 6, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

D'Angelo Hall is available. He can return them for about a million a game. I hear snyder firing up the jet right now. ARE does not have the speed to break one

Posted by: gdavis4 | November 6, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Where is Ali Haji Sheikh when you need him? Tom Tupa? What about Garo Yepremian?

Posted by: chamidi | November 6, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

DeAngelo is an interesting prospect , only 24 with 5 years in the league, doesn't have the return numbers he had in college, but is sturdy and a fast corner, good tackle numbers steadily rising..Could fill the void of often injured Springs..

Posted by: frak | November 6, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: frak | November 6, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Give up on Rock Cartwright returning punts!

He doesn't do it and he's not good at it!

Punt Returns and Kick Returns are two completely different animals!

Being a Chef doesn't make you a Baker!

Posted by: filmchis | November 6, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

the special team play is average at best...they don't block punts, have difficulty returning punts and don't make those stops on kick off returns or punts that result in making a difference....look at how many they fail to down inside the 10 or allow returns out to the 35, when they could really use a play and make a difference....field goals are about it having any success at all.

Posted by: outrbnksm | November 6, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Dude, this is the Washington Post. Can they not afford a proof-reading? Straight up awful to read...careless and annoying.

Posted by: Derek22MD | November 6, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

"Why not work with Leigh Torrence, the fastest man on the Skins, to return punts?"

I another thread someone had a link to scout.com (didn't work) and stated that Leigh Torrence ran a 4.55 - 40 (unless I read it wrong). Rogers, Moss, Thrash (when he was younger), Thomas, Deangelo Hall, just to name several are faster than that. If that time is right he is not even close to being the fastest guy on the team.

Posted by: nephrite | November 8, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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