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Grading the Redskins at the bye: Special teams


Grading the Redskins at the bye: Special teams

By Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir

How have the Redskins done this year going into the bye? Over the next three days Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir grade the team's performance unit by unit. Yesterday we looked at the offense, today it's the special teams.

El-Bashir's grade: C

A strong argument could be made for a lower mark given the occasional misadventures through the season's first nine games. But I've chosen to focus on the improvement Danny Smith's unit has shown in recent weeks.

And by improvement, I'm mostly referring to the signing of unproven Kai Forbath. Nothing turns around a struggling special teams unit like a competent, confident place kicker.

With the exception of a blocked extra point, Forbath has been exceptional, converting all eight of his field goal attempts, of which five have come from between 40-49 yards. He acknowledges that his kickoffs need improvement - and he's right. Of his 21 kickoffs, only 38 percent have been touchbacks. The player Forbath replaced, Billy Cundiff, couldn't make a field goal but sent 62 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks.

The unit has been good on punt coverage and adequate on punt and kick coverage, while returner Brandon Banks is averaging 6.2 yards per punt return (25th) and 24.6 yards per kick return (21st.)

Two areas to monitor in the second half are the health of Sav Rocca, whose bum right knee has led to one shanked punt, and the return of long snapper Nick Sundberg from a broken left arm. Timing is everything in the field goal operation and now Rocca and Forbath must adapt again.

Tandler's grade: C-

The Redskins have rallied to achieve this mediocre mark. They started off horribly with two blocked punts in their first two games and Billy Cundiff working his way to the waiver wire by missing some very makeable field goals.

The punt protection has been solid since the rocky start and Kai Forbath is perfect on eight field goal attempts (although his grade gets dinged a bit for booting a low extra point).

Sav Rocca, who consistently boomed punts last year, is 29th in the NFL in net average at 37.1 yards. Yes, his average did suffer from the two blocks and he has been playing with a torn meniscus the last few weeks. But there is no grading on the curve here, it's a performance business.

The return game has been good news/bad news. The good news is that they have allowed any long returns that either scored or set up touchdowns. The bad news is that Brandon Banks has been unable to shake free to make a game changing kick or punt return.

Besides Forbath, individuals receiving high marks are Lorenzo Alexander and Niles Paul who have been consistently solid and at time spectacular in coverage.

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Redskins injury report: Status on Norman, Reed unknown

Redskins injury report: Status on Norman, Reed unknown

At least 51 Redskins will be making the trip to London on Thursday night, including some who are pretty banged up. And there is hope that the other two will be able to make it across the pond.

“We're taking everybody, which is a good thing,” said coach Jay Gruden. “If something happens on Friday or Saturday, we can make adjustments if needed.”

He later clarified the statuses of tight end Jordan Reed and cornerback Josh Norman. Both of them are in the NFL’s concussion protocol, at least partially.

“I’m not too sure about this — Thursday they are going to the independent doctor and if they’re cleared they’ll go on the trip,” said Gruden. “If not, if we’re still having some pain and setbacks, at that point we’ll make that decision to probably leave them back.”

In other words, stay tuned on those two key players.

Two players were out of practice on Wednesday. Reserve linebacker Terrance Garvin was out with a hip injury, and starting running back Matt Jones missed with a knee problem.

The injury was as much a surprise to Gruden as it was to reporters when they saw that Jones was not participating in practice.

“He just came in, I guess, today, had some soreness laterally,” said Gruden. “Had some pain cutting, has to problem running straight ahead so we kept him out today.”

Limited in practice were wide receivers Jamison Crowder (groin) and DeSean Jackson (hamstring/shoulder); guard Brandon Scherff (shoulder), offensive tackle Trent Williams (knee), Reed, Norman, offensive lineman Spencer Long (chest), cornerback Bashaud Breeland (ankle) and tight end Vernon Davis (groin).

With six offensive starters limited and Jones out, Gruden had to alter practice somewhat.

“We had to do kind of a slower tempo on the offensive side of the ball because of the amount of injuries we had,” said Gruden.

MORE REDSKINS: Crowder explains dropped pass against Lions

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Jordan Reed, Josh Norman in for early part of Redskins practice; Matt Jones out

Jordan Reed, Josh Norman in for early part of Redskins practice; Matt Jones out

Both Josh Norman and Jordan Reed, two important players who are in the concussion protocol, were on the field for the early part of Redskins practice today,

But starting running back Matt Jones was not with the running back during individual drills. He out of uniform, doing some rehab work off to the side. The team did not announce an injury to him during or after the game.

The presence of Reed, who has missed the last two games after suffering a concussion on October 9, at practice was expected. Coach Jay Gruden announced on Monday that Reed would participate today for the first time in a week.

Norman left the Redskins game against the Lions last Sunday in the third quarter and was diagnosed with a concussion. It was a mild surprise to see him on the field so soon.

Reed and Norman practicing today is a positive sign but far from a guarantee that either will play against the Bengals on Sunday in London. Both must be cleared by an independent neurologist prior to playing and that usually doesn’t happen quickly. It’s possible that they may need to be cleared by tonight in order to go to London since there are no NFL-approved independent neurologists in England.

We will find out more about Reed and Norman and get information on Jones’ injury when Gruden addresses the media after practice.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins used Su'a Cravens sparingly against Detroit