Coach Mike Shanahan praised the practice-field performance this week of rookie wide receiver Nick Williams but stopped short Friday of officially naming Williams the Washington Redskins’ punt returner for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia.
“You never go into a new guy starting at a position if he hasn’t started there before, unless there’s an injury,” Shanahan said after Friday’s practice at Redskins Park. “As I said before at the beginning of the week, there’s a possibility he will be active. There’s a possibility he won’t.”
The Redskins promoted Williams from the practice squad to the 53-man roster this week when they placed rookie running back Chris Thompson on the season-ending injured reserve list. Williams possibly could take over for wide receiver Josh Morgan as the team’s top punt returner. Morgan has averaged 7.4 yards per punt return this season. As a team, the Redskins have averaged only 6.1 yards per punt return.
The team has been searching for a punt returner since cornerback Richard Crawford suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. Thompson was given the job entering the season. Morgan was given the next chance. Now it could be Williams.
“Sometimes you’ll have a returner make three or four guys miss,” Shanahan said. “Those guys are usually guys that are leading the NFL in some phase, whether it’s a punt return or a kickoff return. The great special teams usually have a guy that has that type of ability, very similar to what Crawford did for us in the last five games of the season last year.”
Of Williams’s performance in practices, Shanahan said: “He had a good week, practiced well both in the return phase and as a receiver. I was pleased with the way he practiced.”
Williams said later in the locker room: “I feel pretty good. I think I went out there and did pretty well. I caught the ball well, saw the returns and whatnot. So I feel pretty good.”
Williams, who was signed as an undrafted free agent from Connecticut, said he thinks one significant return could give the Redskins a major boost.
“I think it really only takes like one big play and then you kind of feed off that momentum for the rest of it,” he said. “The return game statistics are so skewed. If you have one return for a touchdown, then all of a sudden you probably jump up 15 [spots] in the league averages. So it really only takes one or two plays to really open things up and then kind of put more pressure on the coverage units.”
He doesn’t expect to feel overly nervous, he said, if he does make his NFL debut Sunday.
“It’s football,” Williams said. “It’s the same game I’ve been playing the last 15 years of my life. If anything, I’ll just be really excited.”
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● Injury report for Sunday’s Redskins-Eagles game.
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