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Times-Dispatch:Morton Becoming More Offensive


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Morton becoming more offensive

He wants to be more than return man



ASHBURN The problem for Chad Morton was not what the New York Jets asked him to do. The problem was what they never asked him to do.

The Jets asked Morton to return kickoffs and occasionally a punt. They did not ask him to line up in the backfield or to go out for a pass or to even practice that much.

"I'd warm up, catch a couple of punts with Santana [Moss], mess around with guys, then sit around and watch and talk to Mike Westhoff, the special teams coach," Morton said after a practice at the Washington Redskins training camp.

"That was pretty much my day. I miss Mike. But I like being here a lot better."

He likes it better? But it's so hot and humid. And the Redskins ask him to do all the things the Jets never asked him to do. When it's third and long, the Redskins put Morton in the backfield and send him out on a pass pattern. Or, on third-and-not-so-long, the Redskins fake a pass and hand the ball to Morton on a draw. At the end of practice, the young man is worn out. He wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm having a great time out here," Morton said. "Practice goes by a lot faster. It's a lot of fun catching punts, and I'm feeling comfortable in the offense."

The Redskins are extremely comfortable with Morton on the field. His 26-yard average on kickoff returns was second in the AFC last season. He became just the fifth player in NFL history to return two kickoffs for a touchdown in the same game, and he was the first to do so in reg- ulation and overtime.

But if that's all the Redskins thought Morton, 26, could do, they would not have offered him a contract, would not have given him a $1.6 million signing bonus, and would not have sent their sixth-round draft choice to the Jets as compensation for signing the restricted free agent.

Morton is the rare player who is just as fast and explosive in uniform as he is in shorts and a T-shirt. He might be small by NFL standards, 5-8 203, but he has a quick first step and the ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. He is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field anytime he touches the ball, which makes him the ideal Steve Spurrier player.

Morton also gives the Redskins something they have been lacking since Brian Mitchell left after the 1999 season: a versatile special-teams player who can make a significant contribution on offense.

Morton does many of the things Mitchell did for the Redskins.

"You've got to pattern yourself after him," Morton said. "He's been consistent every year. That's what I admire about him.

"I'm trying to do the things he did when he was here, and at the same time trying to make people forget about him."

Mitchell now plays for the New York Giants.

If all Morton does is catch punts securely, he'll improve the Redskins special teams. Last year, the Redskins lost hundreds of yards on punt exchanges because they never found a legitimate returner.

And Morton shows every sign of being able to catch and secure even the highest of punts.

Morton should be able to do more than just that though, especially on kickoffs.

"Let me caution you about one thing," Redskins special-teams coach Mike Stock said. "I don't know how many kickoffs he's going to catch and return. There are some teams that will kick to him and cover. Most teams are going to try to put the ball someplace else, make someone in the wedge or a fullback take it, make Chad retreat here or take an angle there. They're not going to just give us a long lazy end-over-end kick so we can time it up. Most teams are going to try to make it difficult."

What the Redskins think will happen, though, is that Morton is going to make life difficult for opponents in a number of ways.

Contact Paul Woody at (804) 649-6444 or pwoody@timesdispatch.com

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