Redskins need more punt return production

Redskins need more punt return production
November 10, 2013, 11:15 am
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Redskins have a 'very outside' chance after loss

After losing Richard Crawford to a knee injury and benching Chris Thompson for ineffectiveness, the Redskins turned to Josh Morgan five games ago to return punts.

So far, it’s been a mixed bag for the veteran wide receiver.

Morgan had a scintillating 34-yard return in Denver, but he also ranks just 34th in average yards per return (7.4) on nine attempts. Coach Mike Shanahan said Morgan has “ability” and that he remains inclined to give Morgan more opportunities. But Shanahan also said he’d consider a change if there’s no improvement in the coming weeks. (For comparison's sake, the league leader, Baltimore's Tandon Doss, is averaging 17.8 yards per return.) 

Asked whether the problem is Morgan’s decision-making or the blocking in front of him, Shanahan said there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“You put it on everybody,” Shanahan said. “It’s not one guy… The [returners] that are usually first, second or third in the league can make two, three, four people miss. So you’re always looking for that guy, just like Josh did against Denver. He made three guys miss, so you know he’s got that ability, but we’re going to continually have guys compete for positions and we’ll try to go with the best player.”

Morgan showed his potential early in the second quarter of the Redskins’ loss to the Broncos. He made the risky decision to field a Britton Colquitt punt at Washington’s seven yard line. Morgan slipped a tackle, split two other defenders and made another Bronco miss before finding daylight along the sideline.

Since that return, though, Morgan has had returns of 3, 6 and 0 yards, including a muff in Minnesota after a Vikings’ player got away with making contact with him as he attempted to field the ball.

“Well, you know what? He’s got a lot of guts,” Shanahan said. “In fact, during that game he was actually contacted before he caught the ball if you look at it in slow motion. So he’s fearless and you know that, but sometimes being fearless causes turnovers, so we ask him to be smart as well.”

Since benching Brandon Banks last season, the Redskins have been on the lookout for a full-time punt returner. They though they had discovered one when Richard Crawford averaged 19.5 over the final four games in 2012. But Crawford suffered a season-ending knee injury this preseason. So the Redskins gave Thompson a look. But the rookie averaged only 5.1 yards through four games and also made some poor decisions, which led to his benching. Now Thompson is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

So it’s Morgan’s turn. But he’s going to need more returns like he had in Denver and fewer like the one he muffed in Minnesota if he wants to extend his audition. If he doesn’t, Shanahan said he won’t hesitate to make another change.

“We’ll experiment with returners throughout the year until we get the guy that we want,” Shanahan said. “One of the things that you have to do as a returner is make good decisions. You’ve got to know when to fair catch it, when to take your opportunities to turn it up the field.”