September 6, 2009

Redskins Roster Review: Special Teams

With the roster set I can finally finish off the roster review with a look at special teams.

Things actually appear to have improved after last year’s dismal performance. Hunter Smith was added to bolster one of the worst punting units in the NFL.

Already, Smith’s impact has been noticeable. He had the third most punting yards in the preseason with 1060 and was eighth in average yards per punt among punters with twenty attempts or more (44.2). Smith also put six punts inside the twenty.

However, the punt coverage team has been a little suspect. They allowed the fifth most punt return yards in the preseason with 173, something that could be a major problem in the field position game.

With the inconsistent nature of the Redskin offense, the field position battle is vital. The kick coverage teams can’t afford to struggle once the game begin to count.

Keeping Marcus Mason might be a liability for the special teams. Mason, while a solid option at running back, is not one of the better special teams players on the squad.

Players like Reed Doughty, Marko Mitchell, Robert Henson, Rock Cartwright, Justin Tryon, and Kevin Barnes will have to pick up the slack on the coverage team.

Henson was a good special teams contributor while with TCU while Mitchell has shown a willingness to participate wherever needed. Doughty is already a special teams stalwart while Barnes and Tryon have speed to play on the outside.

The coverage teams are fairly average, but the kicking game is the main concern. The competition between Dave Rayner and incumbent Shaun Suisham was non-existent as the ‘Skins scoring opportunities were few and far between.

Suisham won the job, but he ranked last in field goal percentage last season (72%), and he came up short on a 52-yard field goal against New England this preseason. He did make a 48-yarder last week against Jacksonville.

Suisham doesn’t have a strong leg and has yet to show consistency as a placekicker. Rayner was a kick-off specialist, but had similar numbers kicking field goals. Suisham tied for 34th in kick-off average while Rayner was seventh in limited action with Cincinnati.

It’s sad there isn’t much of an alternative to Suisham, but there really doesn’t appear to be one. The ‘Skins must capitalize on all their scoring opportunities, and having Suisham leaves that in doubt.

Moving on to the return game, the Redskins possess one of the most consistent kick-off return men in the NFL with Rock Cartwright. Cartwright ranked 11th in kick-off return average last year with a 25.6 avg. He isn’t much of a threat to score, but he consistently puts the ‘Skins on the 30 yard-line.

The punt return game seems to have remained the same. Antwaan Randle El retains the job despite his struggles returning punts the past two years.

Randle El is also listed as the number two WR on the depth chart, meaning he is again being miscast as a split receiver. He belongs in the slot, and the added pressure of being the number two WR could lead to another shaky season returning punts.

However, the only challengers to the spot were cut because they had little else to contribute. So unless someone emerges in practice Randle El will handle the bulk of the duties.

Overall Grade: C-

The kick-off return game and Smith as punter are both major positives. Having a good punter will solve some of the field position problems.

However, the ‘Skins offense isn’t good enough to overcome a bunch of missed field goals. Shaun Suisham is far from dependable and that will be a big concern.

Throw in average kick coverage, plus some terrible punt returning, and the ‘Skins aren’t exactly a well-oiled special teams machine.

Anyway, thanks for all those who kept through this Roster Review series. I spent a bunch of time on it throughout the offseason and I am thankful for the positive feedback the series received.

Next up, my predictions on how the Redskins will fare in their 2009 campaign.

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