The Redskins were stricken with injuries to key members of the special teams such as John Hall and Chad Morton during the 2004 season. Several replacements were called upon and filled in well for the injured starters, but they also added depth and youth to a solid special teams unit. This article is the final piece in a series of three that evaluates the players that were acquired by the Redskins in 2004.
Punter Tom Tupa
After releasing the inconsistent Bryan Barker, the Redskins were looking for a punter with longevity in the league. The team found just that in the form of 15-year veteran Tom Tupa, who played the 2002-2003 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tupa started his NFL career as a quarterback with the then-Phoenix Cardinals. During his stint as a Cardinal, he was also used as a punter. That eventually became his permanent position. He joined the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns in the early to mid-1990's. From 1996-1998, he played for the New England Patriots and from 1999-2001, he played for the New York Jets, where he was teammates with current Redskins kicker John Hall.
Hall became a big advocate for Tupa's signing. During their time in New York, Tupa was Hall's holder on field goal attempts and Hall claimed that Tupa was the best holder he had during his 6 seasons as a Jet.
In 2004, Tupa had many chances to showcase his talents, punting 103 times, good enough for 2nd most in the NFL. He was 3rd in the league in average yardage (44.1 yards per punt) and punts inside the 20-yard line (30). Given his history as a quarterback, Tupa was never utilized as a secret weapon on fake punts in 2004.
Tupa's consistent performance earned him a spot as a second alternate for the 2005 Pro Bowl.
WR / PR / KR James Thrash
After a 3-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Thrash returned to the Redskins in late March in exchange for the Redskins' 2005 5th round draft pick. Thrash spent 1997-2000 with the Redskins before heading to Philadelphia. Known for his strong work ethic, character and athleticism, he was highly regarded by Joe Gibbs and was quickly labeled a "core Redskin."
Thrash started 47 games during his three seasons in Philadelphia but he quickly became content with his new role as a reserve receiver in Washington and played a key role on special teams as a kick returner, punt returner and defender.
In 2004, Thrash led the Redskins with 31 special teams tackles. He also led the team with 19 punt returns for 162 yards. He finished third on the team with 9 kickoff returns for 186 yards.
His best game in 2004 was against the Detroit Lions in Week 9. He returned 2 punts for a total of 46 yards but the first went for a career-long 43 yards. He also fielded 2 punts on Detroit's 3-yard line and 1 punt on their 1-yard line. He was named Special Teams Player of the Week by the NFL for his outstanding performance.
Thrash also caught 17 passes for 203 yards, with his best game coming in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings where he caught 5 passes for 81 yards.
With his talent on special teams and reliability as a receiver, Thrash proved to be a clutch addition.
WR / PR / KR Antonio Brown
After Chad Morton suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Redskins signed the versatile Antonio Brown, who made a name for himself as a member of the Buffalo Bills in 2003.
The former Canadian Football League star brought a lot of speed and great vision to Washington. Arguably the fastest player on the team, Brown showcased his athleticism during the final weeks of the 2004 season.
Brown, who was signed on November 3rd, didn't see any action until Week 15 against the San Francisco 49ers. He returned 3 punts for 8 yards.
The following week at Dallas, Brown returned his first punt 39 yards to the Dallas 23 yard line, which set up a field goal that gave the Redskins a 3-0 lead.
During the team's season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, Brown returned the opening kickoff 66 yards and set up a drive resulting in a Chris Cooley touchdown reception. That play set the tempo for the Redskins, who beat the Vikings 21-18.
Brown's performance in 2004 virtually solidified his spot on the 2005 roster.
Kicker Jeff Chandler
Since Ola Kimrin was unable to return to the Redskins due to complications with re-acquiring his visa, the team signed Jeff Chandler, a 3rd-year veteran who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
He appeared in 6 games in 2002 for the 49ers and was released after 2 games in 2003. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to training camp in 2004 but was released in late August. Chandler then signed with the St. Louis Rams in October as insurance for the injured Jeff Wilkins but was inactive against the team's matchup against Miami Dolphins and was released the day after the game. When Carolina Panthers' kicker John Kasay suffered a calf injury, Chandler was signed to the team's practice squad as insurance in mid-November. He successfully converting 8 PAT's and missing two field goal attempts and was released after 2 games.
After signing with the Redskins, Chandler's first task would be to face the San Francisco 49ers. The kicker was undaunted, successfully converting 4 field goals to help lead the Redskins to a 26-16 victory over his former team.
As a Redskin, he ended the season a perfect 6-6 on PAT's and converted 5-6 field goal attempts. Chandler, an exclusive rights free agent during the 2005 offseason, was tendered by the Redskins and will head into 2005 as competition for John Hall.
Linebacker Khary Campbell
The Redskins brought in Khary Campbell during the team's March mini-camp on a tryout basis. He was signed shortly after the tryouts concluded. He spent 2002-2003 with the New York Jets and was used mostly on special teams. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 2002.
In 2004, Campbell brought a lot of energy, youth, discipline and experience to the Redskins. He was aggressive and had a keen sense of awareness. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The injury ended his season as he was placed on injured reserve.
Even though he missed the last 6 games, he still finished third on the team with 20 tackles. It's safe to say that until his injury, Campbell was the unsung hero of the special teams unit.
H-Back Mike Sellers
Sellers returned to the Redskins in February of 2004 after spending 2001 with the Cleveland Browns and 2002-2003 as a member of the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He spent three seasons (1998-2000) with the Redskins after originally signing with the team as an undrafted free agent.
The 6'3, 260 pound Sellers is known for his tenacity on special teams and powerful blocking in his role as an h-back/fullback. But sometimes his emotions interfere with the flow of a game, as was evident during Week 14 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Sellers was the perpetrator of three 15-yard penalties. He committed one facemask penalty and two unnecessary roughness penalties and was the focus of plenty of scrutiny that week.
Overall, Sellers special teams play was superb, finishing second on the team with 29 tackles. He returned 4 kickoffs for 56 yards and caught 1 pass for 14 yards.
Sellers is an unrestricted free agent in 2005 but it appears that the Redskins will attempt to re-sign the 5-year veteran.
Kicker Ola Kimrin
After spending 2001 and 2002 in NFL Europe, Kimrin made a name for himself as a Denver Bronco in August of 2002 when he kicked a 65-yard field goal against the Seattle Seahawks. That kick would have been the longest in NFL history, had it been in a regular season game. But the Broncos already had Jason Elam on the roster, the guy who co-owns the record Kimrin broke in the preseason. So Ola was released before the regular season. In 2003, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys to compete in training camp and was released twice before the season began.
Kimrin was signed by the Redskins on the first day of training camp. He proved to be good competition for John Hall, making all 4 field goal attempts and connecting on all 4 PATs in the preseason. He even kicked the game-winning field goal against the Broncos in the Hall of Fame Game. But Hall's status on the roster was firmly in place and Kimrin was released during the team's final round of roster cuts before the regular season.
Hall battled through injuries during the beginning of the season, so Ola was signed to the practice squad to provide insurance at the kicking position. Kimrin was released for a second time when Hall became healthy. After Hall suffered a groin injury in practice three days prior to the team's Week 6 game against the Chicago Bears, Kimrin was called upon yet again and was signed to the active roster. He kicked two field goals and an extra point in his NFL debut against Chicago. Kimrin played in 5 games for the Redskins and was released again after Hall was declared healthy enough to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12. The Redskins attempted to re-sign Kimrin after Hall suffered a torn hamstring and was placed on injured reserve following Week 14. But Kimrin already traveled home to Sweden and had trouble re-acquiring his visa.
On the season, Kimrin was a perfect 6-6 on PATs and was 6-10 on field goal attempts. All four of his missed attempts came from distances of 30 yards or more. He also kicked off 17 times and averaged 53.3 yards per kickoff.