For most Redskins fans, players and coaches alike, 2014 was a season to forget, with seven losses in the last eight games sealing yet another last-place finish in the NFC East.
But for 24-year-old punter Tress Way, who was on the brink of giving up his NFL dream when Washington extended a lifeline after he’d been waived by Chicago, it was charmed start to finish.
Given 10 days to make Washington’s roster on the eve of the season, Way appeared in all 16 games, led the league in gross punting average (47.5 yards) and earned consideration for Pro Bowl honors as a first-year player.
“If you guys would have told me when I first got brought in and hadn’t even won the job yet [that] at end of the year I’d have a 40-yard net and be leading the league in average I probably would have slapped you in the face and told you to get out of my way. ‘You’re getting into my head!” said Way. He never stopped smiling while talking to reporters as he cleaned out his locker, before launching into a 21-hour drive home to Oklahoma with his wife.
Way credited special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, long snapper Nick Sundberg and place kicker Kai Forbath with helping him settle in and polish his skills.
“It got to the point where I just got comfortable,” said Way, who punted at Oklahoma before being released by the Chicago Bears. “I got in a groove. I was hitting the ball well, and I kept it going all season long.”
Way was Washington’s lone unqualified bright spot on special teams this season. Asked if it had been difficult to take pride in his individual success while on a team that struggled so much, Way replied with a big smile: “It honestly wasn’t, because my teammates were so cool about it. They were all fired up.”
As Pro Bowl voting neared, Way said, veterans like Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather asked him weekly if he were still leading the league in punting. And when he just missed the cut, his teammates were upset.
“It made it fun,” Way said. “I didn’t feel like I was this guy off on my own.”
He also had a positive exit interview Monday with Coach Jay Gruden, who told him he’d had a great first year and urged him to keep getting better.
A few hours later, Way emptied his locker’s contents into a clear plastic sack and shifted his focus to the offseason.
His short-term agenda included a stop en route to Oklahoma in Nashville, where he planned to listen to some live country music and eat some chicken-fried steak. After that, he planned to work on his directional punting (particularly to the left) and his pooch punts.
“I know I have the leg strength to really get it out and really pin teams deep.” Way said. “Those are two things for sure I really want to work on.”
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