Can Richard Crawford return to a useful role on punt returns and at cornerback?

Richard Crawford will hold onto the Redskins' punt return duties. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Richard Crawford made an impact on punt returns in 2012. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Between now and training camp, Mike Jones takes a closer look at players who’ll be key to Washington’s 2014 season.

Special teams as a whole proved a glaring weakness for the Redskins last season, but the lack of a consistent threat at punt returner represented one of their biggest holes.

That’s because second-year pro Richard Crawford, who shined in this capacity as a rookie in 2012 missed all of the 2013 season after tearing multiple ligaments in his knee.

The injury hurt Washington on special teams, but also stunted the long-term development of the depth at cornerback.

Crawford spent the offseason program continuing his rehabilitation and working to further strengthen his knee. He wanted to join his teammates on the practice field, and claimed that doctors told him he could play in a game had it been the regular season.

When training camp rolls around, Crawford hopes to have received clearance to practice, and when he does, he will look to make up for lost time and reclaim his position as punt returner while also trying to force his way into a mix behind starting cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson.

Crawford has competition on both fronts, however.

At punt returner, free-agent additions Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson, long-time veteran Santana Moss and second-year players Chris Thompson and Nick Williams rank among a collection of players that fielded punts during the offseason practices.

At cornerback, more experienced players like E.J. Biggers and offseason acquisition Tracy Porter will both vie for the role of third cornerback. And coaches rave about the potential that rookie Bashaud Breeland (fourth round, Clemson) has displayed.

Having excelled as a return man as a rookie while also chipping in here and there in three- and four-cornerback sets, Crawford has a body of work to start with. But he must prove that he can recapture the effectiveness in the returns game, and that he can continue to develop as a defensive back.

Crawford also must prove he can remain healthy after enduring major knee surgery and a long recovery. A player often doesn’t truly recapture their old form until the second year after their injury/surgery. Crawford will try to display promise sooner.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

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