Special Teams will hopefully be an area of great improvement for the Redskins in 2004. Out is former ST coach Mike Stock, and in is Danny Smith. Smith came to the Redskins from the Buffalo Bills where he spent the last few seasons with Skins' new Assistant Coach Gregg Williams. Buffalo had a solid 2003 campaign special teams-wise, and Smith will be looking to duplicate that success again in 2004. Joe Gibbs has always insisted on solid special teams play, and will undoubtedly give Smith everything he needs to be successful in terms of time and resources.
Smith will certainly have an impressive stable of components to work with…
RB Chad Morton
Weight: 203 lbs .
At first glance, some might think that Chad Morton had an off season in 2003 having slipped to 5th in the NFC for kickoff return yardage (23.4). But anyone who watched Washington play knows that it was not due to a lack of effort on Morton's part. For weeks this fireplug looked like he could take a return to the end zone and was often a sole bright spot in an often dismal 5-11 season. He finally broke one in week 12 against the Saints and took it 94 yards to the house for his only return touchdown of the season.
Morton will benefit directly from the greater attention to special teams that the 2004 coaching regime has. With better blocking, and James Thrash to help shoulder the kick and punt return duties, Chad will be looking to move back into the league's elite category of return men.
WR James Thrash
A former perennial Redskin favorite, Thrash returned to the Redskins in the 2004 off-season. Though it is unknown how he will impact the offense this season, Redskin fans can count on Thrash helping out on special teams. Whether it's with the ball, or without, Thrash has proven year-in and year-out that he is a great ST performer. Last season in Philadelphia, his 24 yards per kickoff return were 2nd in the NFC... and almost a yard more than Morton. Thrash is a guy who works harder than just about everybody... his presence and inspiration make the entire ST unit better.
P Tom Tupa
Weight: 225 lbs .
Tupa comes to Washington from Tampa Bay where he spent two seasons. He is re-united with John Hall whom he spent 3 seasons with, in New York with the Jets. A point made more poignant by the fact that Tupa will also take over holding duties on special teams. The two are very comfortable together.
Tupa will also improve the punting 'situation' that seemed to surface again in 2003. Bryan Barker was 40 years old, and for much of the season, he punted that way. Barker's 40.2-yard average was good enough for just 11th overall in the NFC, while Tupa's 43.3 with the Bucs was good enough for 3rd best in the conference. Tupa had 6 touchbacks as well.
His background as an NFL quarterback also makes him an excellent addition to the Special Teams trick playbook. Joe Gibbs was fond of the odd bit of chicanery in his first go-round. If he's so inclined this time around, it's a good bet that plays will take advantage of Tupa's ability to throw the ball.
K John Hall
Hall was a very welcome addition to the Redskins special teams unit. For years, Redskins fans have felt anything but secure when ANY of the dozen or so 'kickers' that paraded through Washington have dropped back to kick. But 2003 was different. Hall was solid kicking FGs, posting a 76% success rate, and missed just one PAT in his 27 attempts. He managed to post over 100 points (101) for the 6th time in his career. He (tied) led all NFL kickers with 4 FGs of 50 yards or more.
Hall also performed well on kick-offs, though it's one area that he may be looking to improve on in 2004. Redskin opponents' had a starting field position average of the 28-yard line, 6th best in the NFC.
Hall and Tupa will pretty much just be getting into the swing of things. There will be little to watch here except perhaps when fakes and other tricks are being practiced by the kicking unit.
Conversely, there will be a great battle for return duties. Both Thrash and Morton are very capable. Whether one takes punt duties and the other kickoffs remains to be seen, but it's probable that the coaching staff will want the two of them showing what they have in the pre-season. In all likelihood, both will take the field in the regular season, negating the possibility of teams kicking away from strength and facilitating even more trick play possibilities. But in camp terms, it will probably mean many exciting runs from both incumbents.
Watch for the progress in our camp reports, which will be starting Saturday.