The Washington Redskins placed Tom Tupa -- one of the NFL's top punters last season -- on the injured reserve list for the year, reducing the active roster to the maximum 65 by yesterday's deadline. The decision was made because Tupa, 39, missed two straight preseason games with a back ailment, and won't be healthy in time for the regular season opener Sept. 11 against the Chicago Bears.
"It's a situation where it's tough for Tom and tough for us," Coach Joe Gibbs said after yesterday's practice. "We think the world of him."
Tupa's backup this preseason, Andy Groom, 25, doesn't necessarily have the job yet. On Monday, the Redskins signed Chris Mohr, a 16-year veteran, for essentially a three-day competition, capped off by the preseason finale tomorrow against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
By 6 p.m. Saturday, the Redskins must further reduce their active roster to 53. Groom or Mohr is expected to be among those released.
"It's definitely not my job yet," Groom said. "They want competition. Competition makes a lot of people better at what they do."
Tupa had not missed a regular season game since 1994, but he injured his back punting during warmups before an Aug. 19 loss to Cincinnati. (Tupa said his back gave out after he landed on his left foot following a punt.) Groom has had two consecutive strong games as Tupa's replacement. On 13 punts overall, Groom has averaged 42.3 yards, with six punts inside the 20-yard line, plus one touchback.
Last season, Tupa led the NFC with a 44.1-yard average and was fourth in the NFL with 30 (of 103) punts inside the 20. Tupa was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Tupa's accomplishments occurred despite him having to deal with his wife's cancer diagnosis before the season. Tupa said his wife's cancer has been in remission since March.
Tupa and Groom have been linked since their days at Ohio State. Groom's punting average of 45 broke the school mark held by Tupa. In 2003 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tupa beat Groom for the punting job. But Groom expressed ambivalence about his increased chances to win the job in Washington.
"Tom is an awesome guy," said Groom, a 2002 all-American at Ohio State. "He's brought me in like one of his own. He's showed me the ins and outs of punting. He's a good friend, and I hate something like this happening to a good friend."
Groom, 25, has booming punts -- his long this preseason is 56 yards -- with plenty of hang time, but is still learning the nuances that Tupa already has down. But Groom bristled at the notion that directional punting is a weakness, adding that he hasn't had many opportunities. In each of his first two preseasons, Groom had only four punts. "I've finally got some punts," said Groom, who added that special teams coach Danny Smith hasn't asked for many directional punts thus far. "I got 13 this year. I'm pretty happy. I can directional punt. It's just reps. We haven't done much this year."
Groom has never kicked in a regular season game after being released during training camps by the Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers last year.
Mohr's NFL career has been so lengthy that a few Redskins coaches have been on teams for which he punted. Mohr was released by the Atlanta Falcons in March after averaging 40.5 yards last season. The figure ranked 13th out of 15 NFC kickers, but the Falcons waived Mohr mainly because they wanted a punter who could also handle kickoffs. Mohr hasn't punted since the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles in January. Yesterday, Mohr -- whose career average is 40.4 yards -- admitted being rusty during his first practice in several months.
"It's a weird situation. I'm coming in here in such a short time," said Mohr, who has played 10 seasons with the Buffalo Bills and four with the Falcons. "It takes a couple practices to get your timing down. I got my start on it today. You could tell I was rusty. But I don't mind getting thrown in there. It's not too hard being a punter. It's not like I have to learn plays."
Tupa indicated that he would try to play this season after rehabilitating from his injury. Being placed on injured reserve prohibits the 16th-year veteran from playing for the Redskins this season. Tupa will collect his $765,000 base salary while on injured reserve. But to play for another team, Tupa is required to reach an injury settlement for a reduced salary with the Redskins. "I would like to keep going," Tupa said. "The last two years have been very successful. I was obviously planning on another good year helping the team. It's a great team and I think we're going to have a good year. Not to be a part of that is very frustrating."