Redskins roster battles: punt returner

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
10:30
AM ET
Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan joked that they had 14 players fielding punts in practice Monday, trying to find a replacement for injured Richard Crawford. It’s not quite that many, but the point remains: They’re not sure who will handle this job. Shanahan made it clear he does not mind putting a key player on offense or defense back deep, if they’re the best option. He also made it clear you can’t be a fumbler and handle this job. Not that many would think otherwise. Anyway, here’s my handicap of the situation:

Santana Moss: I wrote about him Monday. He’s the most reliable option because of his experience. He has a career 11.3-yard average, which is fantastic, but he has not handled this role full-time since 2004. And, in his last 51 returns, he’s averaged 8.6 yards, which is respectable. One issue with Moss over the years was durability. Coaches felt he got too worn down in the second half of seasons because he was doing too much, was getting older and did not train as well as they would have liked. He improved his offseason training last year, saving his job in Washington. But would being a full-time returner impact his effectiveness in the slot over the course of a season?

Chris Thompson: He has the least amount of experience in this role and as little as two weeks ago looked nothing close to being ready. Here's what he learned after some tough days in camp. But he also has a running style that works well on punt returns. I liked how after catching the ball on his last two punts, he paused after catching the ball, then made his move. He has not been a dancer with the ball. But can you trust him after he lost two fumbles from scrimmage? Unlike the other rookies on this list, Thompson could help from scrimmage on occasion.

Skye Dawson: He fumbled at the end of his first return and then made a poor decision to reverse field, losing yards, on his second. Since then, Dawson has been much better. On his third punt in the opener, he ran it 27 yards and in the following game against Pittsburgh he averaged 13.3 yards on four returns against Pittsburgh with a long of 24. Dawson was good, but not great, in this role at TCU. As a junior he managed just 59 yards on 12 returns -- and that was with a long of 42. A year later he averaged 9.4 yards per punt return. He had one return for 64 yards; on his other 16 returns he averaged six yards. He is fast -- he finished first in the indoor 60 meters championship in 2010 with the third fastest time in Mountain West history. But his track record is not spectacular by any means. And he does not look ready to contribute anywhere but as a punt returner.

Aldrick Robinson: Shanahan keeps calling him a possibility, though Robinson told a few reporters Monday that he would not be returning punts. He struggled two years ago in this role as a rookie, worked on fielding punts throughout the season while on the practice squad and showed little improvement a year ago.

DeAngelo Hall: He has returned 16 punts, but has fumbled four times. In three returns with Washington, he’s gained a combined minus-2 yards and fumbled twice.

Nick Williams: At Connecticut, he returned 52 punts for 470 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores came as a senior when he averaged 12.0 yards on 21 returns. He had a long of 80 yards, but still averaged 8.65 yards on the other 20. But, as with Dawson, could he help you at all from scrimmage? That’s tough to see. One of these two, or both, will end up on the practice squad.

Is Josh Cribbs an option? No. Or, at least, he shouldn’t be. The Redskins never really showed much interest in him this offseason in part because they just didn’t have the salary cap room, one team official said. But Arizona rescinded its offer to him because Cribbs, coming off knee surgery, couldn’t pass a physical and other teams (the Jets) did not look at him for the same reason. Those who watched him in Oakland this summer say he did not look fast. When the Raiders cut you, it’s not a good sign. The Redskins still are tight against the cap, but money is not the only issue with Cribbs. It's possible the eventual punt returner is not on the roster so Saturday's cuts by the other 31 teams could play a vital role for Washington.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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