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Roanoke Times:Washington opens competition for punter


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http://www.roanoke.com/roatimes/news/story153834.html

Washington opens competition for punter

Redskins trio not on firm footing

The 'Skins sign David Leaverton, who will battle Bryan Barker and Brent Bartholomew to handle the team's punting duties.

By JIM DUCIBELLA LANDMARK NEWS SERVICE

ASHBURN, Va. - The Washington Redskins introduced a new special-teams competition Thursday, the punt-a-thon.

Here's how it works.

First, the Redskins announced that they had signed David Leaverton, a former University of Tennessee All-American they tried out on Wednesday.

Then they announced that veteran Bryan Barker and three-year pro Brent Bartholomew would handle all of the punting in Saturday night's exhibition against New England.

On Sunday, one of them will be waived, leaving Leaverton and the survivor to compete for the job. As sort of a warm-up, Leaverton won't punt, but will boot all but the opening kickoff against the Patriots.

"I've never been in anything like this before," said Bartholomew, who was drafted by Miami and has also kicked for Chicago. "You're used to competing against the other team in a game. This is the first time I'll be competing against someone on my own team. It's going to be weird."

Barker, the team's punter last year until he suffered a gruesome broken nose Thanksgiving Day against Dallas while holding for a field goal, appeared unruffled by the news.

"I was brought here by Marty Schottenheimer three years ago, eight years after he told me I wasn't good enough [in Kansas City]," Barker said. "What a great league, eh? I've been doing this a long time and I look at it as just another opportunity."

Leaverton's return to Washington capped a three-day saga in which the Redskins flew him in from St.Louis on Tuesday, flew him back to St.Louis after Wednesday's workout, then called while he was laying over in Chicago to inform him they were flying him back to D.C. on Thursday.

"It's the consistency factor," special-teams coach Mike Stock said when asked about the change. "We didn't have that a year ago."

Stock didn't see it during the opening preseason game, either. Barker punted three times, one for 54 yards, but his net average was 27.7 yards and he disappointed Stock with a 26-yard kick from Washington's 11.

"Our defense had just held them to two field goals and then our offense is backed up," he said. "That's when you have to get it out of there, send 'em way back. When we [get off a short punt] we're not upholding our end of the bargain."

So he's giving Leaverton a shot, hoping that he's either the answer or inspires something better from Barker or Bartholomew.

"All I ask for is an opportunity, and I've got it here," said Leaverton, a fifth-round pick of Jacksonville in 2001. "After that, I hope my skills will speak for themselves."

Actually, Leaverton hasn't lacked for chances. In addition to Jacksonville, he has had tryouts with New England, the Jets, Tampa Bay and St.Louis. He has not been able to unseat an established veteran.

The same might be true here had Barker not seemed to be in the process of repeating last year's routine of punting well in practice, badly in games.

"This is not new," Stock said. "We went through this all last year. He was at the bottom of the barrel, then came back strong against Seattle."

In addition to a lively leg, Leaverton has other attributes that intrigue Stock. He can hold on extra points and field goals. He can kick off, which might save wear on John Hall's leg.

Leaverton also is a two-step punter, which means he is farther from the line of scrimmage when he kicks and is less likely to be blocked. Barker and Bartholomew take 2 1/2 to three steps, which makes them slightly more at risk.

"When you're in college, you try to kick for distance, to have a high average, because that's how you make All-American," said Leaverton, who was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy award as nation's best punter in 2001. "But I've studied the kickers who have been around for a long time, and I've learned. They get lots of hang time. They may average 42 yards, but what teams want is hang time. You kicking it 60 doesn't matter if they return it 40."

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