A successful special teams unit features a host of moving parts working together smoothly.
Then, you have the Washington Redskins’ special teams unit, which has been nothing short of a disaster this season.
Washington allowed Dallas to gain 222 yards on returns last week, serving as the capper for a group that also has allowed a blocked punt and failed to generate any production of its own in the return game.
Now, with Chicago and returner Devin Hester coming to FedEx Field on Sunday, the onus is on the special teams to do something.
“We need to fix it,” special teamer Niles Paul said. “If we want to win any games this year, we have to be better on special teams.”
Over the years, the Redskins have nurtured special teams mavens, ranging from Brian Mitchell to Mike Sellers to the recently departed Lorenzo Alexander. This year’s unit is still searching for that one player to bring everyone together.
“Right now, we’ve had a little more influx,” safety Reed Doughty said. “We’re really trying to get more guys who believe they are a core special teams guy. We need to get more and more guys on board.”
Fans who turned on former special teams coach Danny Smith have found a new target in current special teams coach Keith Burns, whose subtle changes to the unit haven’t produced results.
“You have got to play well as a unit, and if you’re a little bit off either way, you can look pretty average very quickly,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think Keith Burns is a very excellent football coach. Very capable … and I feel very confident that he’ll get the job done.”
In addition to the struggles defending kicks, the Redskins have been unable to find a capable returner — the team ranks 30th in kickoff return average and 27th in punt return average as Paul, Chris Thompson and Joshua Morgan have all been ineffective when tasked with the job.
Paul believes this weekend is an opportunity for the Redskins to make a statement.
“What happened [last] Sunday was a definite wake-up call,” he said. “This challenge is needed. We can show the type of special teams that we want to be known as for the rest of the year.”