What's so special about the Washington Redskins' special teams?
The answer right now, obviously, is nothing.
In fact, it's entirely possible that more special teams players might be released if the Redskins continue to allow an average of 37.3 yards per kickoff return, special teams coach Wayne Sevier said yesterday.
"Players who thought they were in an excellent position in the past now will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis," Sevier said. "A couple of our veterans aren't playing like they are expected to play. We already let one of them go (linebacker Pete Cronan). We're going to evaluate the others."
While Sevier refused to name names, veteran running back Otis Wonsley is considered by some within the organization to be one of those players.
"Otis is still on the roster," is all Sevier would say.
A sign that the Redskins are not entirely happy with Wonsley was their acquisition earlier this week of rookie running back Reggie Branch, a hard-hitting special teams player from East Carolina who was waived Aug. 27 when the Redskins cut their roster from 60 to 50.
Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that Branch will play "on everything," special teams-wise. Sevier amended that statement slightly to say Branch will play on all but the punt return team, which is averaging 7.5 yards on 10 returns, more than a yard less than last season's 8.6 average on 55 punt returns.
The Redskins' punt coverage team is allowing just 5.7 yards per return, but even that doesn't stack up when compared with last season's 4.9-yard average.
And kickoff returns, well, don't ask. The Redskins' returns average 21.1 yards this season, up from 19.6 last season, but the opponents' returns have ballooned from an average of 19.2 yards in 1984 to the open-floodgate 37.3 now.
Ironically, new return man Ken Jenkins is statistically outperforming former all-pro Mike Nelms, who was released Aug. 27.
Jenkins has returned four punts for an average of 10.3 yards (Nelms' average was 8.7 yards on 49 punts last season) and 15 kickoffs for an average of 22.3 yards (Nelms' average was 20.1 on 42 kickoffs).
Yet there have been mistakes made on returns: balls caught inside the 10, punts allowed to bounce, fair catches made too early. Nelms, a very interested observer, said yesterday from his home near Redskin Park that the Redskins "made a mistake" in letting him go.
"If they were looking for something else, then good luck to them, because they're still looking," Nelms, 30, said. "If they weren't satisfied with my performance, then with the things that are happening now, they are getting less than I gave them."
Nelms lost his job mainly because, with the new 45-player roster, he was not used at any of the 22 offensive or defensive positions. Jenkins also plays running back, while sometime punt returners Raphel Cherry and Gary Clark play free safety and wide receiver, respectively.
Nelms said he "didn't mean to knock" his replacements. "They're young guys and good athletes and if you give them time, they'll do well."
But, he said, "I don't think they have a fire in their gut for returning kicks. They look apprehensive, they let the ball drop . . . they lack that fire in their gut or maybe the belief that they can catch the ball on the run."
Sevier said he did not agree with what Nelms said.
"I'm happy with Ken Jenkins," Sevier said. "He's a great player. We like him very much."