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Danny Smith Considers Punting Prospects, Including Larry Michael

Posted by Matt Terl on April 7, 2011 – 11:14 am

Take a look at the picture above. You can tell from the gold pants that it’s from last season, and it’s pretty clearly someone punting the ball … but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you couldn’t tell me the guy’s name. Four guys punted the ball last year (although one of them was kicker Graham Gano being pressed into emergency duty) and none of them exactly stood out.

Josh Bidwell punted in three games, with a net average of 37.7 yards and 3 punts inside the 20. Gano, in his one fill-in game, punted four times and saw one of them blocked. Hunter Smith punted in nine games in relief of Bidwell, and finished with a net average of 33.7 yards, one return TD against, and 17 punts pinned inside the 20. And Sam Paulescu — he’s the one pictured above, in case you really were unsure — punted 17 times in the last three games of the season for a net average of 33.1 yards.

Nothing catastrophic, but certainly no punter that serves as field-flipping weapon, either. So when special teams coach Danny Smith appeared on Redskins Nation, Larry Michael asked the obvious question: who would be punting for the Redskins next season?

Smith’s answer certainly seems to indicate that the team is casting a pretty wide net. “If you could punt, Larry, we’ll give you an opportunity,” Smith said. “I mean, we’ll take anybody in this building to go out there. We’ve had seven punters in two years. That’s unbelievable. We had three punters in ’09, we used four punters this year if you count the game with Graham Gano in the St. Louis game. I mean, we had four punters punt in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins this year. That’s unheard of.”

It’s a theme that Smith would return to again later, in a way that doesn’t exactly serve as a ringing endorsement for Paulescu. “We’ll take anybody at this point,” Smith said, “because I think anything would be an improvement, to be quite honest with you. I really do. But you’d like to get a veteran who has some games under his belt.”

Mildly amusing answers aside, Smith is keenly aware of exactly how important this issue is.

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Mike Shanahan Explains The Release Of Hunter Smith

Posted by Matt Terl on December 15, 2010 – 4:51 pm

There has been a pretty widespread assumption that Hunter Smith was released because of the botched hold at the end of the Buccaneers game. You would think that, at the very least, it didn’t help. But Mike Shanahan today claimed that it was Smith’s entire body of work, not just one costly play.

In fact, Shanahan said, Smith’s response to his miscue almost bought the punter a little more time on the squad. “I told Hunter, I said I admired the way he stepped up and blamed it on himself. I said it was a combination of the snap and the hold, but Hunter’s the type of guy that took full responsibility for it. ‘For that,’ I said, ‘I was gonna keep you just for the way you handled yourself.'”

But Shanahan is the head coach, which means that a player being a stand-up guy is all well and good, but his ability to do what the coaches need takes precedence. “Over the last twenty punts I think he’s had two that we’d consider the hangtime that we want,” Shanahan said, “so that’s why we’d make the change. It had nothing to do with the hold.” Read more »

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Hunter Smith Takes The Blame For The Final PAT

Posted by Matt Terl on December 12, 2010 – 5:02 pm

Saying that today was “rough” for Redskins kicker Graham Gano is a catastrophic bit of understatement. Gano missed two makeable field goals — a 34 yarder banged clear off the left upright and a 24 yarder wide left — and didn’t even get the chance to attempt the final PAT, which led to the painful moment above.

Gano has only been in the NFL for two seasons, but he knows perfectly well that a game like this can cost a kicker his job — and, in fact, that a game like this did just that to a Redskins kicker last year. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Gano said. “I’ve seen it happen before. That’s what happened to me last year — that’s how I got here. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised. But I’m just as confident as ever. It’s my second year kicking in the NFL and I think I’ll be here for a long time.”

Fortunately for Gano (at least for the moment), his head coach seems to agree, saying that he wouldn’t be bringing in tryout kickers this week. “He has been very consistent for us in practice,” Mike Shanahan said. “He’s young and I think he has a great future. Hopefully, he can put this behind him and when he gets in the same situation he’ll put it through the uprights.”

But there are other people who might be concerned as well: Read more »

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Two Explanations Of The Difference From Last Year

Posted by Matt Terl on October 11, 2010 – 12:22 pm

My initial reaction to the final score of Sunday’s overtime thriller against the Packers was that “this was not a game the 2009 squad would’ve won”. At about the same time as I was posting that, London Fletcher was giving a locker room speech that focused on much the same message. And it’s been a recurring theme in columns and game-stories today, with folks from Mike Wise to Rich Campbell to the Associated Press and more sounding that note.

Most of those stories have player quotes — Fletcher, Reed Doughty, etc. — expressing and trying to explain the change, and I was no different. I discussed it with Chris Wilson in the locker room, and he suggested the primary difference was that the team was growing up.

“You got young guys that are making plays — as well as getting wins — in clutch situations,” Wilson said. “When we need it like that and you show up, that’s big. That’s maturity. Same thing with [LaRon] Landry. Landry’s a heck of a player. Nobody’s ever gonna question his type of effort. But when you make plays like that when we NEED it? That’s the difference right there. So as we continue to mature and give the same type of effort, I think we’re gonna be a pretty hard team to deal with in the future.”

Someone asked whether a simple change in defensive mentality could account for the plays being made by the new defense, and Wilson stuck to his point: “I think it’s more maturity than mentality, because everybody WANTS to make plays.”

But Wilson — and Fletcher, and Doughty, and most of the other people I had seen quoted on the subject — have all been here as this change has taken place. It’s like watching someone you live with grow out their hair: you never notice that it’s getting longer, but one day they look like Logan Paulsen.

So I went to the one player in the locker room who saw last year — was at the center of some of the oddest of last year’s oddities, in fact — and was part of yesterday’s game, but was NOT around while the changes were taking place: punter Hunter Smith.

And he thought there might be even more to the change:
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Hunter Smith Returns But Will Probably Not Run Swinging Gate Again [Updated]

Posted by Matt Terl on October 7, 2010 – 2:09 pm

It was seeming likely that this AP Photo of the Redskins clearing out the locker room on January 4 of this year would be the last we’d see of Hunter “the Punter” Smith — and possibly the last the NFL would see of him. Which was both bad and sort of good for the eleven year vet.

“It was great and terrible on a lot of different levels,” Smith said today. “25 years of playing football, since you’re eight years old being on a team at the beginning of the season, it is sort of a disconnected feeling you have. By the same token we had a newborn and it’s great to be with your family and be able to give them that extra time. So that part was great.”

Great or not, Smith was available when the Redskins called and alerted him to what he characterized as “a situation with” punter Josh Bidwell’s hip. And when it became clear that Bidwell would be going onto Injured Reserve today, it was Smith who got the call, and he was rested and ready play again.

“I’m not an old guy,” he said. “I had an injury that I felt was kinda crippling for a few games but getting that rehabbed an all the way better and being a hundred percent, it’s great to be back and get back on the field.”

Not that he’s JUST been resting and changing diapers, though. “I think I actually work harder unsigned,” Smith said. “Because you’re on your own schedule, you’re able to do your own thing. I have a trainer I work with, punt twice a week, work out and run twice a week, and rest in the interim. It’s great. You find a local high school with a good field, go there and get your work done.”

The high point of Smith’s media session, though, came when he was asked about the infamous — and ill-fated — fake field goal that has come to stand for the entire frustrating season last year; specifically, he was asked if he’d suggest to head coach Mike Shanahan that it be added to the gameplan. Read more »

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That Fourth Quarter Punt: Still Frustrating

Posted by Matt Terl on December 28, 2009 – 2:47 pm

As you might have surmised from my fourth quarter thoughts last night, I went down to the locker room more than just a little perplexed by the team’s decision to punt the ball away with 6:00 minutes left in the game while trailing by three scores.

A brief summary of my complaints, refined after a few hours sleep:

  • I don’t like punting there because it feels too much like giving up. Even given that the defense was playing well, expecting them to get the ball back with enough time to score not once, not twice, but THREE times … that seems like a stretch. And, to be honest, if you believe the defense can stop the Cowboys that quickly, that’s all the MORE reason not to punt: if you don’t convert the first down, trust the defense to hold the Cowboys to a field goal and it’s STILL a three score game. So to me, punting seemed like giving up.
  • As a result, my dislike was doubled when the team started using defensive timeouts trying to get the ball back.
  • And it tripled when — after GETTING the ball back, against all odds — they didn’t seem to be pressing downfield.

So all of that was in my head during last night’s locker room session, which is probably why I found myself asking Hunter Smith about it.

This was largely nonsensical; Smith doesn’t ELECT to punt, he just punts when the punt team is in. Asking him about this decision was roughly analogous to interrogating a gun for information about a stick-up. Nevertheless, it’s what I found myself doing.

“I understand the frustration,” Smith said, “but at the same time it wasn’t like it was fourth-and-inches. We had a substantial amount — fourth and long — and at that point if you don’t get it, then you don’t live to play another day.”

Smith did tell me that there wasn’t much delay in calling for the punt. “That’s a real gray area they’re in there,” he said, “statistically, I mean. They have a piece of paper that tells them when you’re down by this with this much left and this many timeouts. It’s just a gray area, ’cause on that part of the field, you’re thinking maybe we can pin ’em deep, force the punt and get the ball in good field position.”

In the end, Smith said the only thing he could say: “Coach Zorn is the coach, and he makes those calls; when he makes that call I go in and punt.”

Well, during his press conference today, Coach Zorn was asked about exactly that.
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About That Trick Play…

Posted by Matt Terl on December 22, 2009 – 4:12 pm

Personally, I think they should’ve kicked the field goal. Let me get that out of the way first.

Limping in to halftime after a severe beat-down, knowing you’ll be receiving the second-half kickoff, I say you take the three points, call it a moral victory that ends the shutout and cuts the deficit to a scant three touchdowns, and try to to build on it after the break.

But I will say this: it was a designed play. I’ve seen it work in practice. And it was not nearly as stupid as the TV announcers would have you believe.

If you watch the video above, you’ll hear the announcing team go from giddy anticipation of a go-for-broke, nothing-to-lose attempt from a team that’s been successful at them before to disdainfully scorning. “What is the wide world is that?” play-by-play voice Mike Tirico says, adding, “This is embarrassing” before getting back to the play-by-play.

“I’ve never seen that play,” Jon Gruden froths to Ron Jaworski, in his overcaffeinated way. “I hope I never see it again, Jaws!”

“I’m speechless,” Jaworksi responds. “I … I don’t know what to say.”

And, a few seconds later, Gruden says, “They don’t even protect their kickers here!” Which is an amusing line, but it also fundamentally ignores the concept of the play — a concept that the players involved were defending in the postgame locker room, and STILL defending at the facility today.

“When you run it in practice,” Hunter Smith started, and then paused. “Theoretically, you catch them off guard and they go safe mode and leave me alone, and just make sure I have nowhere to go and nowhere to run beyond the line of scrimmage. And, in some cases, it might work that way. But in their case…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, so I’ll finish it for him: in their case, it didn’t. Read more »

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Malcolm Kelly's Old Freestyle Not As Popular As You Think

Posted by Matt Terl on December 2, 2009 – 5:03 pm

Ever since Malcolm Kelly was drafted — since well BEFORE he was drafted, in fact — this is what most of the Redskins fans I know have associated him with: his locker room freestyle after the Sooners’ Big 12 Championship Game win back in 2006.

So when I spoke to hip-hop artist (and Redskins fan) Wale yesterday, I asked him when he’d have Kelly do a guest verse on something. “One day,” Wale said. “We both have to get further in our careers.” But something in the way he said it led me to believe that he had no idea why I was asking the question, a suspicion that quickly proved true. I explained about the freestyling and the YouTube video and all of that, and he shrugged and moved on.

When I told Kelly that story today, he returned the favor, saying that he wasn’t hugely familiar with Wale — “You know,” he said, “I’m just now getting’ up here to the East Coast, so it’s a different thing up here. I heard he jams, though.” — but when I mentioned the YouTube video, Chris Wilson chimed in from a few lockers down.

“What you got on YouTube?” Wilson asked. Kelly and I both tried to explain.

“Wait,” Wilson said, “you was rappin’? I never seen it. Was it good?”

Which is how I found out that no matter what my friends and I liked about Kelly before he got here, virtually no one in the locker room had seen what made Kelly YouTube famous.

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Shaun Suisham Was Happy For Mike Sellers (And Hunter Smith Too)

Posted by Matt Terl on November 18, 2009 – 4:30 pm

We’ll get to the part where kicker Shaun Suisham WAS happy in a bit, but this story starts elsewhere: Suisham had read on some obscure blog somewhere that Hunter Smith had no intention of throwing him the ball on the touchdown play that ultimately went to Mike Sellers, and he was not pleased.

“I talked to Hunter about that, because I wasn’t happy,” Suisham told me today, trying very hard to look stern and serious. “I left him a voicemail. My wife told me it was on the website. After further discussion, he says he was joking, and he was hoping the tone came through in the article. So we settled that, and I’m okay with it now.”
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Finally, A Vote!

Posted by Matt Terl on November 17, 2009 – 3:00 pm

Ah, remember the glorious days of the first half of the 2008 Redskins season? There was always a reason to vote for some Redskins player or coach to win some sponsored league honor, from the sublime (Chris Horton, NFL rookie of the month!) to the merely entertaining (EVERYONE for the Pro Bowl!).

This year, those occasions have been sort of thin on the ground. Shockingly, there just aren’t as many positives about a 3-6 team. But this week, that all changes: the Hunter Smith to Mike Sellers touchdown has been nominated for Sprint Can’t Miss Play Of The Week.

And I think, no matter how frustrated you may be with some things about the team, that we can all agree on one simple fact: when you motion out of field goal formation into shotgun, then roll the punter right while sneaking the fullback left along the line, then have the punter put nearly fifty (diagonal) yards in the air to him for a momentum-swinging touchdown … well, every time that happens, it’s worth voting on for Play of the Week.

So go vote at NFL.com/fans — polls are open until 3 p.m. Saturday.

Ah, it feels just like the good old days. Read more »

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