By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006
Derrick Frost reported for work this week knowing there would be new employees summoned to challenge him for his job. There had been no assurances that his one-year tenure as the Washington Redskins' punter would continue, and Frost, with perhaps his career at stake last night, produced his best outing of the preseason and earned a strong vote of confidence from Coach Joe Gibbs.
Frost was one of few standouts in Washington's 17-10 loss to Baltimore at FedEx Field, excelling on kicks and punts after adjusting his technique at practice this week. It was a significant improvement over earlier exhibitions -- when one punt traveled 23 yards and a kickoff died at the 13 -- and brought an end to what would be a bizarre week for many, but is the norm for a young punter. Just two days earlier, the Redskins brought in two punters to compete for Frost's position, and since that practice Gibbs said he has observed a dramatic improvement.
"Derrick just pounded it, he just killed it," Gibbs said of Tuesday's practice. "I think we found some things there with him that can really help him. So I think he's going to be handling both of those chores for us [punting and kickoffs]. He's a young guy and I think he's got great potential."
Frost, 25, braced for the arrival of new punters after struggling Saturday in New England, and they came Tuesday morning. Journeyman Eddie Johnson beat out journeyman Toby Gowin in a morning tryout, the Redskins signed Johnson that afternoon and by 6 p.m. he was cut, unable to get through practice because of a sore leg.
That left Frost as the lone punter last night -- David Lonie was released earlier in the week -- and gave special teams coach Danny Smith one last chance to take an extended look at him before final roster decisions are made. There are still several free agent punters sitting by their phones, eager for work, and plenty of agents are calling teams desperate to get a workout. For now, Frost seems safe.
"I've always thought of myself as a pressure player," Frost said. "I like pressure. I think I always do better when my back's against the wall."
Frost worked with Smith on his mechanics, holding the ball a little higher and more inside before releasing it, which is helping with the guidance of his punts. Frost has sent several punts sailing off line, and while his hang time is still less than perfect, his distance and accuracy were much better against the Ravens.
Frost, whose kickoffs reached the 1 and 5, sent his first four punts 47, 42, 43 and 48 yards, with minimal or no return. "My hang times weren't what I wanted," Frost said, "but I got great coverage tonight." His best effort came in the third quarter, when, with his feet inches from the end line, he smacked the ball 65 yards in the air for a 53-yard effort, leaving Baltimore with weaker than anticipated field position and earning Frost a gauntlet of acknowledging helmet slaps as he strode back to the sidelines.
"Tonight there were a couple that I didn't hit great, but they didn't hurt us," Frost said. "The key to being a punter in this league is, 'How bad is your worst punt?' And I feel like I'm gong in the right direction."
Oft-injured kicker John Hall might not feel the same, however. He missed wide from 42 yards, had a 43-yard attempt blocked in New England, missed twice from more than 40 yards in a scrimmage with Baltimore in early August, and was just 2 for 4 in the preseason. Gibbs has endorsed Hall throughout the offseason, but the Redskins have ample time to audition other kickers before opening the season in 10 days against Minnesota.