With news that incumbent punt return Richard Crawford was lost for the season after sustaining a knee injury against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, the Washington Redskins punt return battle is as open as the holes the offensive line created for Alfred Morris last season.
In a move that sounds more like head coach Mike Shanahan trying his hand at filling out a recreation basketball squad than an open competition for the right to field punts, the two-time Super Bowl champion head coach said in his post-practice press conference on Monday afternoon that there are “a few candidates” for the job.
“We actually had 14 guys returning punts today, so everybody wants a shot to be our returner [joking]. I’d say our experienced guys are guys that you all know about. [Wide receiver] Santana [Moss] has done it in the past; D-Hall [cornerback DeAngelo Hall] has done it; I think everybody saw what [running back] Chris Thompson has done. So we’ve got a few of guys back there – along with [wide receiver] Skye [Dawson], we saw him, what he’s done in a couple of preseason games – so we’ve got a few candidates back there.”
You’re probably thinking right about now ‘Shanahan joked? Yeah right.’ But the man who goes into every situation with a fiery intensity that would shake even Chuck Norris to his core joked about how many players are in the competition—sort of.
So who has the best shot at lining up to return Donnie Jones punts on September 9th?
As proved on Saturday, veteran wide receiver Santana Moss hasn’t lost a step and his burners haven’t frazzled from years of usage. If he wins the job, Moss is would become the first Redskin to return a punt for a touchdown since—Santana Moss.
That came in 2008 when he took a ball back 80 yards for the score.
Moss admitted yesterday that while he is no longer consider the team’s top aerial target, he has no problem putting punt return duties on his plate.
“I feel like it’s still something I can do,” Moss said. “Dealing with the circumstances, if we need me back there I’ll go. It’s something that got me here. I shied away from it a lot because I was a start and when you’re out there more you want to give yourself a chance on the offense, aside from not taking away from what you can do offensively. Now that I have my share of time off from being a starter, I won’t mind being back there.”
Dawson’s returned a handful of punts during the preseason and with a logjam of talent at the receiving corps, knows that his best chance at catching onto the final 53-man roster is as a returner. He’s ready to seize his opportunity if called upon.
I’ve been waiting my whole life for an opportunity like this. I’m going to go out there take advantage and do my best.”
Dawson has the privilege of working under new special teams coach Keith Burns and said that they built a solid rapport the moment they met.
“The first day I met him I felt like we had a connection right off the bat,” Dawson said. “He jokes around when [he] needs be, but he’s mainly focused and concentrated on helping everyone out.”
Remember he helped Trindon Holiday, who was cut by the Houston Texans earlier in the season, become the best return specialist last year when he was an assistant special teams coach with the Denver Broncos.
Williams, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Connecticut, recorded only two receiving touchdown his last two years with the Huskies. Now before you question his inclusion on the current 75-man roster, you can’t overlook the fact that it’s his return abilities that got him to the NFL.
Thompson may be the biggest wildcard of all in the competition. Despite having elite speed, he’s recovering from two major injuries, the most recent being a torn ACL during his last season at Florida State. He’s shown no ill effects from being sidelined though in his first season with the Redskins.
On his first punt return since high school Saturday, running start and all, Thompson returned a punt 31 yards, setting up the Redskins deep in Bills territory.
Could he be adding to some unforgettable Friday night lights moments in his memory bank this fall?
“My senior year in high school was the last time I caught a punt in a game. [It] was a touchdown.”
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Tags: chris thompson, Nick Williams, Santana Moss, Skye Dawson
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