The State of Special Teams
By: Mark Solway
Category: Washington Redskins News
When the Redskins signed John Hall in the off-season, you could hear a collective exhale as Washingtonians imagined what life could be like with a dependable kicker. To-date, Hall has not disappointed. Loved by teammates because of his 'linebacker' mentality, he has brought a very calming influence to the kicking game. Suddenly, the days of biting a towel on every FG and PAT are gone, and there is guarded optimism with ANY kick attempt made by Hall. He is 14/18 on FG attempts and has not missed from inside 40 yards. He has also made all 11 of his PATs. While not perfect, Hall has drastically shored up the kick returns as well. Though not every kick sails into the end zone, the kicks are high and deep enough to get the coverage team inside the opposition's 25-yard line more often than not.
All through training camp and right up until the first game of the regular season, Bryan Barker had been trying to prove to Redskin officials that at 39 years old, the 'ole punter's leg still had some life left in it. Brent Bartholomew pushed Barker hard for the job, but eventually Barker prevailed and is having a much better season than in 2002. Though still ranking among the lowest net averages in the NFC (39.6 Yds), Barker has managed to pin the opposition inside their own 20 when he needed to, and has had very few 'shanks'. While his performance hasn't been outstanding, the punting game hasn't been the bain of ST as in year's past , so Barker gets some merit points.
Chad Morton was brought over from the Jets to give the Redskins ST a boost. Has he done that? If you were to look at his numbers, you would probably think not, as his 21.9 yard return average is about middle-of-the-pack. However, those of you that may have been watching him know that it is just a matter of time before #20 takes one 'to the house'. His average is gradually increasing every week as he becomes more and more familiar with the ST coverages and he is earning a lot of yardage after the initial contact. His punt returns have been even better. With a 10.7 yard average, he is among the NFL's best, and he has fielded every single punt cleanly. He also makes great decisions as to when to field the kick and when to just let it go. There is something to be said about those great hands. Confidence in Morton continues to grow, and that kind of confidence in your return man can go a long way in improving your results.
While the special teams coaching will not get a grade, as mentioned earlier, it would be irresponsible to not lay the recent accomplishments of the unit at the feet of Mike Stock. With each passing week, the unit gets better and that is usually a direct result of coaching. Stock gets the honorable mention for being the only coach on the Redskins' staff responsible for anything resembling improvement in recent weeks.
Overall Grade: B
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