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Redskins' Punting Woes Could Get the Boot

The Redskins' training camp continues in Ashburn.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 7, 2009

During an offseason in which the Washington Redskins again spent millions of dollars in free agency, the acquisition of punter Hunter Smith is, at first glance, merely a footnote.

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Smith's contract was, of course, well short of the $100 million and $55 million deals handed out, respectively, to headliners Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall. His signing didn't warrant a news conference or receive even the same amount of attention as the lower-profile acquisitions of guard Derrick Dockery or supplemental draft pick Jeremy Jarmon.

Of course, who would expect it to? Picking up an 11th-year punter isn't exactly a sexy move.

But Smith's presence at training camp this season solidifies an area in which the Redskins have struggled for a decade. Not since the departure of punter Matt Turk in 2000 has Washington enjoyed the luxury of a consistent and dependable punter. And as a result, the Redskins often have found themselves losing the all-important battle for field position.

Last year, Washington went through three punters, including sixth-round draft pick Durant Brooks, and still finished dead last in the NFL with a net average of 33.4 yards per punt.

So in the eyes of those within the organization, signing "Hunter the Punter" wasn't quite so low profile.

"For us, it's huge," Coach Jim Zorn said. "But also when you talk free agent acquisitions, that was as good an acquisition, potentially, as Albert Haynesworth or DeAngelo Hall because it directly impacts field position. We are going to have to punt this year, and when we punt it's just going to be a tremendous asset to us with our punting and our punt coverage."

Smith has been the epitome of consistency. In 10 years with the Colts, he averaged 43.4 yards per punt with a net of 35.5. Seven times in his career he ranked in the top 10 in the league in punting average, and last season Smith pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 23 times while allowing just two touchbacks.

By comparison, Redskins punters -- Brooks and Ryan Plackemeier -- combined for 24 punts inside the 20-yard line with 10 touchbacks.

"Obviously when you get the ball on the 40 or 50 going in, it's a huge confidence boost. You feel like you should score, and I think that can help us a ton," tight end Chris Cooley said. "It's hard to start from the 15- or 20-yard line, and you just know the work that's involved in that type of a drive. It's really nice to get the ball on the 50."

The Redskins' struggle to find a punter in the last decade has seen a plethora of tryouts and nine punters employed in what has become a revolving door of mediocrity.

Since Turk, a Pro Bowl pick, finished second in the NFL with a net average of 38.9 yards in 1998, the Redskins have not finished in the top half of the league in that category, ranking no higher than 18th.

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