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.
Who will return kickoffs and punts?
The Redskins’ return game last year was, well, pathetic. They averaged 6.4 yards per punt return, 28th in the NFL. But their performance there was better than it was on kickoff returns; they averaged 20.0 yards, dead last in the NFL. Chris Thompson, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, and Nick Williams all went back to field punts. Thompson and Niles Paul were tried at kick returner. It was all change for the sake of change as none of them had any room to run. Who will get the first crack at returning in 2014?
Tandler: The first thing that needs to be made clear here is that the return game will not improve unless the blocking gets better. Rarely if ever did anyone doing commentary say, “Wow, Morgan (or Thompson or Moss) really missed a big opening there.” Devin Hester in his prime may not have averaged much more than 6.4 yards per punt return with that blocking. They hope that new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica and some new personnel can solve the blocking problems. The first crack at the job could go to Thompson, assuming he’s healthy. He has the one thing you can’t teach, speed. If he can be taught the other nuances of picking up his blocking and finding his way down the field he could be very effective. Another possibility on punts is Richard Crawford, who average 19.5 yards on 8 returns in 2012. Or they could decide not to rely on two players who were on injured reserve last year and spend a late draft pick on a speedy back like De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon to handle the duties.
El-Bashir: I totally agree with Rich’s assessment that poor scheme/blocking was at fault last season. That said, scheme/blocking had nothing to do with the returners fielding punts inside the 10, muffing punts or their inability to make the first opponent miss. But that was last year. This season, I suspect Chris Thompson will get another chance to prove himself. Gruden has hinted on a couple of occasions that he’s intrigued by the Florida State product’s speed and elusiveness. And now that Thompson is another year removed from ACL surgery and fully recovered from shoulder surgery, this is make-or-break time. If Gruden isn’t enamored by Thompson, though, he’ll options. High on that list will be Andre Roberts, who acknowledged in a recent interview that he’s already talked with Ben Kotwica about getting involved in the return game. Roberts has experience returning kicks and punts. In fact, he was the Cardinals’ full-time punt returner in 2010. That year, he also averaged 23.3 yards per kickoff return on 14 attempts. And now that Roberts has been pushed down the depth chart at wide receiver by DeSean Jackson, he’ll be hungry to find another way to contribute.
- April 10: Who from the draft class of 2011 will step up?
- April 11: Who will claim the punter position?
- April 12: What 2013 draft pick will emerge to play a key role?
- April 13: Will Brian Orakpo take the next step?
- April 14: Will Jordan Reed have a Pro Bowl season?
- April 15: Will the Haslett without handcuffs scheme work?
- April 16: Who will start on the offensive line?
- April 17: What will Jay Gruden’s offense look like?
- April 18: What effect will Jackson have on the rest of the receivers?
- April 19: How much better will the pass rush be with Jason Hatcher?
- April 20: Who will replace London Fletcher at inside linebacker?
- Today: Who will return punts and kickoffs?
- Later today: Will special teams improve?
- Tomorrow: Who will assume London Fletcher’s leadership role?