By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 13, 2008
Washington Redskins punter Durant Brooks's bumpy rookie season hit another patch of turbulence during yesterday's 19-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Brooks was booed by the home crowd several times. He was publicly upbraided by teammates after a 26-yard kick late in the third quarter that led to a St. Louis field goal. His coach, Jim Zorn, suggested that Brooks might soon face competition for his job. And college football's best punter a year ago, a sixth-round draft pick last spring, was left quietly trying to explain how he'd handle these latest gusts.
"I can't worry any more," the 23-year-old said. "If you worry, it takes the fun out of it, worrying about everything. And that's one of my biggest problems right now, trying to think and analyze everything so much. I can't."
The Redskins are "gonna do what they need to do," he continued. "If I'm a part of it, that's awesome. I mean, I'll pick my game up. There's no doubt. There's no way I'll stay like this. Not at all. But I can't worry about it. I've just got to come out and practice, and keep improving and removing the clutter from my head."
Brooks's first kick traveled 50 yards, pinning the Rams at their 3-yard line and leading to Washington's first touchdown, but he acknowledged receiving a fortunate bounce on the play. In addition to the 26-yarder, he also had a 35-yard punt in the second quarter. And his teammates didn't always help, as with a 51-yard punt in the third quarter that was returned 34 yards by Dante Hall.
Yesterday's setbacks came a week after Brooks had sent a short and low-hanging punt to Philadelphia Eagles rookie DeSean Jackson, who became the second Redskins opponent to return a Brooks kick for a score this season. Washington was last in the NFL in gross punting average and second-to-last in net average before yesterday's disappointing results. As he so often is, Zorn was asked about his rookie punter after the game, and his assessment was blunt.
"We have to improve our punting or we're going to be in trouble every game," Zorn said. "Either we bring in another punter to compete and see how that works, or we get the punter we have -- who's a young guy -- we get him maturing very quickly. In this game, it's hard to wait around, right?"
Some teammates on special teams also seemed to be losing their patience, and several had words for Brooks after his weakest punt of the day.
"I told him we needed him to be consistent," special teams co-captain Rock Cartwright said. "We told him we needed him to be accountable, that everybody needed to hold up their end. We depend on him, we trust him. He's our punter, we believe in what he does, and it's just frustrating when you're expecting something to happen and it doesn't happen the way you expect it to."
Cartwright declined to address potential personnel changes, saying "that's not my concern. I play football. I don't coach. I'm not a scout. I play football. I mean, you see what it is for yourself. Y'all make the call. I don't make the call, I just play."
The team's kicking game endured another blip when Shaun Suisham sent a fourth-quarter kickoff out of bounds, which also led to visible displays of frustration from teammates.
"It was a bad kick," Suisham said. "I know that doesn't make me a bad kicker."
That play didn't lead to any St. Louis points, but it helped contribute to the Rams' starting field position of their 35-yard line, by far the worst Washington has allowed this season. Others veterans were more subtle in addressing the problem, while acknowledging that special teams play was an issue.
"It's kind of like we were just there, and didn't really do much to impact the game," special teams co-captain Khary Campbell said.
Still, the focus was mostly trained on Brooks, who said he hasn't been booed by a home crowd before this season and hasn't kicked this poorly since his freshman year at Georgia Tech. He has tried watching his collegiate film to gain confidence, and Rams punter Donnie Jones made a point of grabbing the rookie after the game.
"He told me he's going through a little bit of a tough time, and I explained to him that I went through the same thing when I was a rookie," Jones said. "He's a great kicker, he proved that in college. He's just got to get used to this league and this level."
Brooks was drafted to replace erratic veteran Derrick Frost, but the rookie said only one of his five punts yesterday was good, which is why he wasn't fazed by repeated questions about his job security.
"If they decide to [make a change], that's fine," Brooks said. "I'll take it in stride. I mean, I'd understand. They're looking for improvement from Frost last year, and that hasn't happened so far."