How can the Redskins improve their special teams in 2014?

How can the Redskins improve their special teams in 2014?
April 22, 2014, 1:30 pm
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Tandler - Tarik

The 2014 Redskins are loaded with storylines. Between now and the start of the first veteran minicamp on April 29, Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will examine 20 questions Washington faces as Jay Gruden pieces together the roster, finalizes his playbook and preps for his first season as a head coach in the NFL.

Will special teams improve?

The Redskins’ special teams were an unmitigated disaster in 2013. They ranked 28th in average yards per punt return. They ranked 32nd last in average yards per kick return. They ranked last in net punting average, too. And we could go on and on. But you get the picture. Because of the struggles, GM Bruce Allen made wholesale changes across the board this offseason, starting at the top. But will the hiring of Ben Kotwica as special teams coordinator and the addition of several rugged veterans solve the problem (s)? The good news is that, in a handful of areas, they can’t really get any worse.

El-Bashir: I’m in a wait-and-see mode with special teams after last year’s debacle. I do, however, like he changes Allen and Jay Gruden have made so far. Kotwica is a 39-year-old, detailed focused graduate of West Point. If he can get the players to buy what he’s selling—something Keith Burns never could do—the unit should be markedly better from a preparation and an effort standpoint. The personnel moves should also make a difference. Linebackers Akeem Jordan, Darryl Sharpton and Adam Hayward are proven contributors in punt and kick coverage. Punter Sav Rocca—a Mike Shanahan favorite—was released after a poor season. Nick Sundberg, one of the most reliable long snappers in the game, has returned from knee surgery. If Kotwica can connect with his players and find a punter and a consistent returner, I like the unit’s chances of becoming an asset rather than a hindrance in 2014. But, as I said a moment ago, they’ve got to prove it on the field before anyone will be truly convinced.  

Tandler: I agree with Tarik—show me. I like the additions Jordan, Sharpton, and Hayward and it won’t be hard to improve on Rocca’s net punting average, which was dead last in the NFL. But they need more. Let’s see if the reserve wide receivers will make substantial contributions on special teams. Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Aldrick Robinson probably won’t. It’s the same with the backup running backs. Last year, Bacarri Rambo and Brandon Jenkins were frequently inactive due to their lack of enthusiasm for special teams. That’s fine, but it needs to be made clear to them that there isn’t a place on the 53-man roster for a reserve safety or linebacker who doesn’t volunteer to play on every special teams unit he can. And will their draft picks report to Kotwica before they report to their position coaches? Schemes are fine and important but good special teams play is a state of mind and a matter of the organization making a commitment to the kicking game. If Allen, Gruden and company emphasize special teams in meaningful ways beyond just lip service, the Redskins have a chance at improving. If they don’t, all the nice X’s and O’s Kotwica draws up will be useless.

20 questions: