By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
There was a time when John Hall was as durable as any place kicker in the league. For seven years he was essentially injury free, missing a single game while earning a reputation as a fierce competitor who delivered hits on kickoff coverage and spent as much time in the weight room as the linebackers.
But over the past two seasons, Hall has been hurt almost as much as he has been healthy, his ability to make long-range field goals is under question after a spate of leg and groin injuries, and he no longer handles kickoff duties. That is significant, as Derrick Frost, still trying to cement himself in the NFL as a punter, had poor results kicking off Saturday night in a 27-14 preseason loss to the New York Jets.
The Redskins assembled a plethora of high-priced players and coaches this offseason to fortify a Super Bowl run, but left their starting kicker and punter intact and signed no established backups to challenge them in training camp.
Coach Joe Gibbs has professed faith in Hall and Frost repeatedly, but at the midpoint of the preseason neither has stood out. Hall missed two of three attempts in a scrimmage with Baltimore (both over 40 yards) and, with the offense struggling, had just one chance at a field goal in two exhibition games, connecting from 38 yards against Cincinnati. Frost punted well against the Bengals, but slumped last weekend against the Jets, and his short kickoff led directly to New York's 87-yard return for a touchdown. For the Redskins, who prize field position and special teams and have had 13 games decided by four points or less the last two seasons, such results are not good enough.
"It's always a big concern when you lose and you don't think you performed well," said special teams coach Danny Smith, who has been making do with rookies and journeymen on his return and coverage units. "We've got to perform better."
The team has remained loyal to Hall for two seasons, keeping him on the roster for almost all of 2004 despite his hamstring and other leg injuries early that year. They kept him active again last season even though he missed six straight games in September and October because of more leg problems, and had to rely on novice kickers Ola Kimrin and Nick Novak during those prolonged absences. Hall was limited in his duties this offseason after undergoing surgery to repair an abdominal tear, but Gibbs has defended his leg strength and said he is not overly concerned with the lack of opportunities for Hall in preseason games.
"John's been around forever, I think he's a really seasoned guy, and he gets a lot of work in practice," Gibbs said. "Yeah, we'd like to put ourselves in position and have a chance to kick more field goals, but we haven't done that and it's just something we're going to have to live with and hopefully cure in the next two weeks."
Hall has been less accurate than usual from 40 yards or more over the past two seasons (6 for 11), and has missed both attempts from 50 yards or greater in that span. But he has not misfired from less than 30 yards since 2000 and has connected on numerous clutch kicks in his career. Hall said he "feels pretty good," about his return to health and relished the chance to kick off.
"Absolutely, I do miss kickoffs," Hall said, "and if it comes down to it where I need to, then I'd be willing to do whatever they need me to do, happily."
Frost was released by Cleveland in 2004 after punting in all 16 games for the Browns as a rookie, and the Redskins signed him after veteran Tom Tupa suffered a freakish, career-ending back injury last preseason. Frost was inconsistent in 2005 and has been erratic this month. He needed a fortunate roll on his first punt Saturday, sent his second just 36 yards and botched a chance to pin the Jets deep later by kicking into the end zone. His low kickoff to the 13-yard line in the second quarter was returned for an easy touchdown right after the Redskins had tied the game.
"It's hard to ask a guy to do both," Smith said of punts and kickoffs. "That's why not many people do it. We're going to have to find out what kind of consistency we can get out of that."
Frost, who made a touchdown-saving tackle on the opening kickoff, knows the Redskins could sign a veteran free agent since his only competition in camp is rookie free agent David Lonie. And he knows consistency must be the rule.
"We know Derrick's capable of doing it," Gibbs said. "Now we just need it done."
Rookie kicker Tyler Jones, who would have kicked field goals had there been any attempts in the second half Saturday, fared well on kickoffs in the preseason opener, and it is not uncommon for teams to keep an extra kicker for kickoffs specifically. The Redskins may face a roster crunch, however, and could carry several injured players on the 53-man roster, making an extra kicker a luxury they might not be able to afford.
"Coach asks me my opinion on those things, but he makes the final decision," Smith said. "We talk about it all the time, and we're trying to see what combinations we can have to help the football team. We're far from reaching a decision yet."