Washington Redskins special teams ace/linebacker Lorenzo Alexander hopes to face some aggressive kick returners today when his team opens the season against the New York Giants.
After a preseason in which kickers racked up touchback after touchback thanks to a new rule that moved kickoffs five yards forward to the 35-yard line, Alexander bluntly said, “I hate the new rules.”
Alexander has made a name for himself over the first five years of his career by making big plays on the Redskins’ special teams units — most notably the kick off unit where he often earned the “Hit Stick,” an actual stick that special teams coach Danny Smith awarded to the player with the biggest “teams” tackle of the game.
But those chances likely will diminish if fewer kickoffs are actually returned. In the preseason, Alexander & Co. would race downfield only for return men to accept touchbacks again and again, eliminating the coverage team players’ opportunities to make plays that could pin their foes inside the 20-yard line. (During the preseason, kicker Graham Gano racked up 16 touchbacks, and opponents attempted returns just seven times).
Alexander watched Thursday night as in the season opener the Green Bay Packers’ Randall Cobb and the New Orleans Saints’ Darren Sproles both were daring enough to bring the ball out from deep in the end zone twice. Cobb had a 108-yard kick off return for a touchdown, and also had a 27-yard return. Sproles returned one kick 57 yards, and another 19 yards.
Obviously Alexander doesn’t want to see the Giants reel off monster returns, but the aggression on the part of the return men means opportunities for players such as Alexander, who don’t start on offense or defense and relish the chance to help the Redskins on special teams.
“You definitely want them to bring it out,” Alexander said with a laugh. “Doing something you love to do, going down there making big hits, changing the momentum of the game and getting your team hyped up is one of the things I’ve been able to do around here. But you’ve just got to continue to work, and hopefully I get a chance to do it.
“When kickers start directionally kicking, then we’ll see guys take the ball at the 1- and 2-yard line. Some guys like Devin [Hester] will probably always bring it out from six, eight yards deep. But yeah, I definitely want them to bring it out so we have our chances.”