Redskins special teams seeks block busters

September 21, 2012

Washington Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith said Friday he accepts responsibility for the two blocked punts the team has allowed in its first two games of the season. Smith’s players have spent the week defending him, saying the blocks resulted from basic protection mistakes, not coaching issues.

But everyone involved agrees on a few things: Opponents haven’t done anything fancy to block the punts, but they undoubtedly will continue to do all they can to put pressure on punter Sav Rocca until the Redskins demonstrate they can solve their problems.

“The fancy schemes aren’t the ones that block the punts,” Smith said after Friday’s practice at Redskins Park. “It’s a mental error, a technique error on a player, usually, that causes it. And that’s what happened. Those two plays, they get magnified and ultimately that’s on me. Ultimately, I’m the coach. I’m responsible for it.”

In the Redskins’ season-opening victory at New Orleans, the Saints blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. Then the Rams blocked a punt in Sunday’s loss at St. Louis.

“It’s not Danny at all,” tight end Niles Paul said. “It’s mental mistakes from the players. As long as we get it right, everything will be just fine.”

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, the Redskins’ special teams captain, called Smith one of the league’s top special teams coaches.

“It’s not a coaching issue,” Alexander said. “It’s accountability on the players. It’s not executing. It’s just like anything else: If Robert [Griffin III] goes out there and throws an interception, do you blame Kyle [Shanahan, the team’s offensive coordinator] because he threw the interception?”

The two blocked punts come on the heels of last season, when the Redskins allowed a league-high five field goal attempts to be blocked. The ongoing breakdowns have some observers going to Internet message boards to blame Smith.

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan joins the players’ support of Smith, saying this week that he signed Smith and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to contract extensions this past offseason and wouldn’t have done so if he didn’t have faith in them.

“Every play is magnified on special teams,” Smith said Friday. “It should be. It’s very important. They are game-changers. They are tendency-breakers. They are momentum-changers. So they’re big plays. And I tell our team all the time, ‘We don’t have a second down to get it right, a third down to get it right.’ On offense, you can get sacked on first down. It can be second and 30. You still have a chance. But special teams, on a fourth-down punt you have no [second] chance. You’ve got one shot to take care of your business.”

The blocked punt in New Orleans appeared to result from Chris Wilson missing a blocking assignment. The block in St. Louis appeared to come after Perry Riley left too quickly to get downfield to try to make a tackle.

Smith did not discuss specifics but said: “It’s nothing about a scheme. It’s nothing about surprises. It really is nothing like that. We had two lapses, and they get magnified. And they are gigantic plays in a game. And you can’t have them, and you can’t allow them.”

Alexander said he spoke Monday to members of the Redskins’ special teams, urging them to clean up the errors. Smith spent the week emphasizing fundamental play in practice, he said.

“I go back,” Smith said. “And you beat your head against the wall: ‘Did I put them in those situations enough? Have we practiced those situations enough? Why did he do what he did in those kinds of situations?’ I had a player come in to me Monday morning and say, ‘Danny, I owe you an apology.’ You don’t owe me an apology. Block the SOB, okay? That’s all I want you to do.”

Smith and his players said they know the spotlight will be on them in Sunday’s home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at FedEx Field.

“It’s little mental errors here and there,” Paul said. “But I feel like we’ll be back on track and back to where we’re supposed to be at. . . . It’s no special schemes [by opponents] or nothing like that. It’s just everybody not being on the same page. It’s little things happening here and there. I think we’ll be fine.”

They also expect the Bengals, and every other opponent, to be diligent about seeing if they can do what the Saints and Rams did.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Smith said. “They will do it until you protect it. When you protect it, they go somewhere else. That’s what this business is all about.”

Notes: Wide receiver Pierre Garcon will be listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game, Shanahan said after Friday’s practice. Shanahan said Garcon pushed hard during Friday’s practice, but his foot remained sore and he was unable to participate in full team drills.

Shanahan added that cornerback Josh Wilson will be listed as probable after suffering a concussion last weekend, and safety Brandon Meriweather, who has missed two games after aggravating a knee injury, will be listed as questionable. . . .

The NFL fined wide receiver Josh Morgan $7,875 for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing the ball at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan late in last Sunday’s loss at St. Louis, a person familiar with the situation said Friday. Morgan said Wednesday he had been fined but he didn’t know the amount.

Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was fined $15,750 for unnecessary roughness during the Rams game. Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins was fined $15,750 and defensive lineman Robert Quinn was fined $7,875, both for unnecessary roughness.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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