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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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Hunter Smith Did Not Have Faith In Shaun Suisham As A Receiver

Posted by Matt Terl on November 16, 2009 – 3:00 pm

Hey, maybe you heard somewhere that punter Hunter Smith threw a touchdown pass yesterday? It’s true!

You’ve probably also heard by now that Smith was a multiple-position threat at Sherman High School, including quarterback — “I was a better receiver than anything, and went to college as that,” he said after the game, before settling into much more standard athlete-speak. “I just count myself as a punter who happened to be healthy enough to be on the field and threw a ball.”

But you may not have realized that — because the play started in field goal formation –kicker Shaun Suisham was running a route as a receiver on the play. Which is not to say that he was a valid check-down option, of course. Read more »

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Notes After Practice: Another Week, Another Punter

Posted by Matt Terl on November 5, 2009 – 4:31 pm

Since I started working here, it feels like there’s been more player movement at punter than at any other position. And somehow it always brings the wackiness. From the early days of “Durant Brooks is a weapon” last season through Ryan Plackemeier — dubbed “Muffintop” by the Mr. I gang — to HunterGreatest Holder and Shoe Model and William the Bruce Impersonator and Christian Rocker of All Time” Smith and his former-bartender substitute, it’s been a pretty lively bunch. And that doesn’t even account for Shaun Suisham‘s brief, heroic turn at the position.

Well, the shuffling continued today, as Smith aggravated his groin injury and the team worked out (and plans to sign) Sam Paulescu to punt this week. Paulescu’s immediate claims to fame are leveling Tampa Bay’s Clifton Smith (in the video above) and helping to determine the height of the videoboard in the new Dallas stadium.

I’m sure we’ll find out other fascinating specifics when the guy officially signs on, likely tomorrow. Something to look forward to.

Other practice notes…. Read more »

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The Pakulak Attack Is Back

Posted by Matt Terl on October 17, 2009 – 2:29 pm

Apparently chatting amiably with the media and bearing a passing resemblance to a character from Braveheart didn’t miraculously accelerate the healing process for Hunter Smith, because the team today re-signed Glenn Pakulak from the practice squad to the active roster and again released defensive end Renaldo Wynn.

It’s the same move the team made last week, and Pakulak responded with a 35.6 yard average on five punts. (Wynn responded by not being on the team, obviously, and by re-signing earlier this week.)

Assuming Smith’s assessment of his injury — “a three week injury,” he called it — is correct, this would be the last game as a Redskin for Pakulak.

In other news today, offensive lineman Chad Rinehart has been added to the injury report with a sore shoulder. Also, for everyone who has been clamoring for the whereabouts of Marko Mitchell, Jason Reid of the Washington Post posed the question on Friday. Read more »

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Hunter Smith Is 50-50 For Sunday, Also For Assisting William Wallace

Posted by Matt Terl on October 16, 2009 – 1:59 pm

Hunter Smith
may be available to punt Sunday. He stopped and discussed that with the media after eating lunch, talking in his usual easygoing fashion about knowing how far he could push his leg without risking reinjury and the like.

“Tomorrow after practice, I’m gonna punt some,” he said, “and we’ll see then, make a decision based on how that goes. We’ve done what we needed to do this week, which is to strengthen it and rest it. It’s probably a three week injury; we’re gonna try and make it back in two weeks.” Read more »

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Hunter Smith Is Hopeful, Shaun Suisham Is Thankful (In The Canadian Tradition)

Posted by Matt Terl on October 14, 2009 – 4:26 pm

As I mentioned this morning, Glenn Pakulak is back in the building (and still totally enthused to be here, too: “Alive for another week,” he said today).

But don’t rule Hunter Smith out just yet. “We’re just taking it day-to-day,” Smith said, “see how it feels. It’s significantly better than it was this time last week, but I couldn’t make any promises on playing or not.”

Smith was exceedingly frustrated about not having been able to contribute last week — “It was difficult,” he said bluntly. “I don’t like it. I wanna be out there helping our team, but like I said, at the same time, I wanna be well when I come back.” — but he was complimentary of Pakulak’s work in relief.

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