Here is a look at some of the special teams battles going on at camp:
Shaun Suisham is coming off of the second best statistical season ever for a Redskins kicker, making 29 of 35 field goals (82.9%). The percentage is only behind Mark Moseley’s 95% in his 1982 MVP season. Suisham also kicked two game-winning overtime field goals against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. His efforts against the Jets didn’t go unnoticed. His five field goals that game tied a team record and earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Despite missing a crucial field goal against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs, Suisham improved upon his 2006 performance in his first full NFL season and is aiming to be a the team’s kicker for years to come. The Redskins haven’t had a consistent kicker for more than a short period of time since Chip Lohmiller in the early 1990’s. Suisham’s job appears safe considering there is no competition for him in training camp.
This preseason, Suisham needs to improve on placing his kickoffs inside the five-yard line more often. The Redskins were 31st in average yards per kickoff and ranked 22nd in touchbacks forced.
Suisham’s long snapper, Ethan Albright, was finally rewarded for his consistency by making a trip to Hawaii for his first Pro Bowl in his 14-year career. Albright, who re-signed with the team in February, is arguably the most underrated Redskin and has not botched a snap since his arrival in 2001. The “Red Snapper” makes the life of Derrick Frost that much easier as the holder on field goals given that the ball speed and location point are seemingly exact every snap.
One of the many surprises coming from the NFL Draft was the Redskins’ selection of punter Durant Brooks. It’s not new information that the Redskins have needed punting help for the past couple of seasons but not yet having taken a defensive end at that point in the draft, the selection of a punter seemed to jump out of nowhere.
Brooks does seem to have a lot going for him. Legendary NFL punter Ray Guy is a friend of his family and he also won the award named in honor of the former Oakland Raider great after being voted college football’s best punter in 2007. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is hoping to provide the Redskins punting unit with the consistency, distance, and power not seen since Tom Tupa in 2004, when he finished third in the NFL in average yards per punt.
The incumbent Frost did have an improved season in 2007, however. He started off well early on with stronger punts that kept return units back further. But he then continued to rely on punts with fortunate bounces and rolls without much distance on them. Under Frost, the Redskins finished 27th in average yards per punt last season. In spite of his struggles, Frost has beaten out any competition that has come his way in the past so don’t expect him to step aside for a rookie.
Kick and Punt Return Units:
Retaining Rock Cartwright was one of the main priorities for the Redskins this offseason and that was accomplished when they re-signed him to a three-year, $3.55 million deal. As a free agent, the market wasn’t what he expected so he returned to the Redskins as their primary kickoff returner, which has been his main position since last season.
It’s almost a certainty that Cartwright’s kickoff returns will bring the team past their own 30-yard line, giving the offense good starting field position. On many occasions, he seems on the verge of breaking it loose for a touchdown. He finished sixth in the league in kickoff return yardage and was key in the Redskins top ten ranking (they finished 8th in the league) in average yardage per kickoff return in 2007.
Antwaan Randle-El returns as the team’s projected primary punt returner. He had a career year at wide receiver but must find a way to run north and south on punt returns more often, as opposed to east and west, which he is accustomed to doing. His main focus as a punt returner is to make defenders miss with fancy jukes and spins. He must improve on visualizing the best possible lane to run through before defenders get to him instead of running to the first open spot and relying on his moves to get him out of jams once they close up. His habit of east-west running is a factor in the team finishing 26th in average yardage per punt return in 2007. He does, however, have tremendous speed and the ability to score at any moment once he has the ball.
Kick and Punt Coverage Unit:
Khary Campbell returns as the leading special teams tackler for the third consecutive season. Arguably the best special teams defender, Campbell has made the team the last four seasons off of his superior coverage skills and nose for opposing returners.
Cartwright finished second on the team in special teams tackles last season. He is an all-around consummate special teams performer and is a very reliable and valuable asset to the team.
The Redskins had young greenhorns make their presence known on coverage units as well, coming in the form of Anthony Mix and H.B. Blades.
Mix made his mark by logging at least two special teams tackles per game at the end of the season. He was a large factor in containing Chicago Bears dynamic returner Devin Hester during Week 14, led the team with four special teams tackles against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16, and made two special teams tackles along with one critical kickoff recovery against the Seahawks.
Blades led the team with four special teams tackles in Week 3 against the New York Giants and finished the season with 13 special teams tackles.
What to Watch For At Camp:
-- The battle between Derrick Frost and rookie Durant Brooks.
-- Antwaan Randle El’s urge to push the “Forward Button” on punt returns
-- Shaun Suisham’s progression.
-- Rock Cartwright’s ability to break away from the last couple of tacklers on kickoff returns.