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For Redskins, Extra Special Attention

Stock Trying to Build Non-Porous Unit

By Nunyo Demasio


Mike Stock crouched on his right knee near a goal line at Redskins Park, wearing a gray cap, matching T-shirt and a stern gaze.

Punters David Leaverton and Bryan Barker and place kicker John Hall -- the only players on the field -- took turns booting balls to one another as Stock occasionally barked instructions.

Then Stock -- the Washington Redskins' special teams coach -- trudged over to the opposite field, where the rest of the team was running through drills, and struck the same pose.

Stock is searching for a few good men. They don't necessarily have to be special.

The Redskins' special teams unit was one of the worst in the NFL last season, disappointing even on a 7-9 team.

The organization appeared to upgrade the unit during the offseason by signing Hall and kick returner Chad Morton, both former New York Jets. And in stark contrast with last year, Coach Steve Spurrier has given special attention to the unit.

Yet with two preseason games left -- including Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field -- the unit still resembles last year's laughingstock, as Stock strives to settle on a punter and a coverage team.

The pickings became slimmer after Saturday's 20-13 loss to the New England Patriots at FedEx Field. The kickoff coverage unit was sloppy, tripping over each other and providing gaping holes to allow a 42-yard kick return and a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by rookie Bethel Johnson.

The silver lining is that the unit was mainly made up of players unlikely to make the team, such as wide receiver Scott Cloman, defensive back Jordan Younger and tailback Sultan McCullough.

Hall is the sole player guaranteed a spot on the kicking unit. Nonetheless, Saturday's performance -- replete with five of the team's 13 penalties -- brought back bad memories of last season.

"I don't care if it's preseason and who's on the field," said Stock, his voice still tinged with anger. "We didn't get it done. It's embarrassing. It's not acceptable."

In 2002, the Redskins' special teams unit was ranked next-to-last in the NFL, yielding three touchdowns while losing an NFC-high four fumbles on returns.

How especially bad was the unit? It ranked 29th in field goal accuracy (64 percent) and 31st in net punt average. The punt coverage unit was ranked 28th, surrendering an average of 13.7 yards. The kickoff coverage unit was the least ignominious area, ranking 24th and yielding an average of 22.5 yards.

"The biggest thing about last year's team is we gave up a touchdown on a blocked punt, a punt return and kickoff return," Stock said. "And those are embarrassments and negative to the team's morale during the game. Those things have to be eliminated."

The Redskins have taken steps to spur a reversal of fortune. During training camp, at least one session focused on special teams. And players on the bubble have an advantage if they show ability to help the unit. The NFL's first wholesale cuts occur Tuesday, when rosters must be reduced from roughly 80 to 65. Before Spurrier makes decisions, he will check with Stock on who can contribute.

On Monday, safety Rashidi Barnes was cut because of poor play on special teams against the Patriots. Although Barnes wasn't expected to make the team, the move illustrated Spurrier's no-nonsense approach.

"Even though we're playing a lot of players who are not going to be on the team, they should be busting their tail," Spurrier said. "We're a pretty bad cover team right now and hopefully we'll get better."

During a 12-year span at the University of Florida, Spurrier's Gators averaged 35 points, reducing the importance of special teams. But Spurrier's offensively challenged team in his first NFL season helped highlight the shortcomings of the special-teams unit.

Last year, the Redskins used a potpourri of returners. When Jacquez Green was released, the Redskins used cornerback Champ Bailey. The experiment ended after the Pro Bowler kept dropping balls as if they were greased.

Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts showed promise as kick returners. However, the Redskins hope the acquisition of Morton -- who will return punts and kickoffs -- will boost the special teams unit. Last season with the New York Jets, Morton averaged 26 yards on kickoffs, second in the AFC and fourth in the league.

However, in the Redskins' first two exhibitions, Morton averaged 20 yards per kickoff return. The 5-foot-8, 203-pounder has performed like a dancer still adjusting to a new partner. Even in practice, Morton's moves haven't been in tune with his blockers.

"We're not even close to where we need to be," said Morton, who returned two kicks for touchdowns in one game last season, becoming the fifth player in the NFL to do so. "But we have good players and we'll get it done. I want to get on the same page well before the first game."

Morton has returned only 48 punts during his three-year career for a 9.2 average. Despite the minimum experience, Morton prefers returning punts.

"It's more of a high," Morton said, alluding to the increased danger. "It's just fun. I'm going to be fearless back there. I don't care about getting hit. I just have to make good decisions."

On the opposite end, Barker, 39, has a tenuous hold on his punting duties largely because of the worst season of his career. Last year, Barker set career lows with an average of 40.1 yards -- worst in the NFL -- and a 30-yard net average (punt minus returns).

Against the Patriots, the Redskins turned the 14-year veteran into a "Survivor" contestant against Brent Bartholomew, with the loser being released. The competition was about as riveting as "Gigli." But Barker was solid enough to make the cut and battle with Leaverton, who was signed last week.

Barker's season ended last year after he suffered an open nasal fracture against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Barker seems almost oblivious to the scrutiny of each punt and declares last season an aberration.

"We had a lot of strange things happen on special teams that I've never seen before," Barker said. "But I came into preseason in the best shape of my life. I feel very confident in my abilities."

What wasn't an aberration for the Redskins was the changing faces of the kickers: In the past eight seasons, the Redskins have used 11, including three last year. Hall made 74 percent of his kicks in six seasons with the Jets. It's nothing special compared with other NFL kickers. But around these parts, the figure is exceptional. (In the past six seasons, Redskins kickers have combined to make 68 percent.)

The special teams unit was so abysmal last season that there was speculation that Stock -- a well-respected coach -- would lose his job. But Stock is back despite a degenerative right hip that makes it difficult to stand for long periods.

The coach had his left hip replaced a few years ago. He delayed surgery during the offseason to scout punters, kickers and returners. Stock -- who takes painkillers to help stay on his feet -- won't have an operation until after the season.

For now, the coach trudges along, searching for a few good men.

"We're not there yet," Stock said.

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The silver lining is that the unit was mainly made up of players unlikely to make the team, such as wide receiver Scott Cloman, defensive back Jordan Younger and tailback Sultan McCullough


well, I guess that gives you Cloman and McCullough backers an idea of the long odds these guys face in making the final roster.

if they don't shine on teams they aren't going to make it, not in a year when we have a bevy of wide receivers and running backs that can suit up and play.

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Yeah, no way we let Smoot go. As much as I believe good defense starts from back to front (not dissing the importance of the D line, but first you take away the big plays) and as much as I like Champ, if he wants too much money then Smoot becomes our #1 guy and we use one of the our top picks on another corner. With the picks that trading Champ would bring us, that shouldn't be a problem.

:doh: WTF? I posted this to the thread about the Smoot trade rumor and it came up on the thread I read just before!



Mods, if you have a moment could you delete this post? I'm gonna try to re-post to the correct thread.

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Love this part of the article:

Against the Patriots, the Redskins turned the 14-year veteran into a "Survivor" contestant against Brent Bartholomew, with the loser being released. The competition was about as riveting as "Gigli."

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Originally posted by Yomar

Kato...come back

You and Navy Dave are SO right! Both of those guys were excellent Special Teams players. In fact Serwanga was spectacular on Special Teams! I still can't comprehend how they could be let go. It's these kinds of moves and keeping Barker (who I believe will once again screw up at a key moment during a game this year if he makes the team) that makes me womder if anybody at Redskins Park has a clue about how to put together a good Special Teams unit. Kato or Marv Levy or Rusty Tillman - somebody with a clue...please come back!

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