Four games into his NFL career, Redskins rookie Chris Thompson ranks 21st in the league in punt return average at 5.1 yards per attempt.
So, obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement. He knows it, as does special teams coordinator Keith Burns, who this week reaffirmed that the team intends to remain patient with Thompson as he adjusts to the pro game.
“I feel I need to do better,” said Thompson, who for the first time this season did not return any kickoffs last week Oakland. “I’m always hard on myself because every time I touch the ball I want to make plays. But it’s just basically getting out there, being smart about it and putting the team in good field position.”
Thompson’s last outing was an uneven one. He made a shrewd play on the Raiders’ second punt when he tied up gunner Taiwan Jones, allowing the ball to roll into the end zone for a touchback. He later made an athletic grab on a bouncing ball and advanced it 11 yards to the Washington 19. The ball almost surely would have be downed near the goal line otherwise.
“I just have to continue to improve and do those little things like that,” Thompson said.
Thompson also appeared overly conservative on other punts in Oakland. Four, in fact, bounced and were either downed by the Raiders or rolled out of bounds.
“You deal with the rust spots with young returners,” Burns said. “I told him I’m willing to live with it as long as he’s making good decisions back there. For any young returner, every experience is a new experience, whether it’s good or bad. We just want to have more good than bad. He has the ability to do it back there, [we] just have to be patient.”
Burns added: “I think his decision-making is good. He grows every game.”
Burns also said he can do a better job from a scheme standpoint and Thompson’s teammates can do a better job of opening up lanes.
“As a young returner, they see a lot,” Burns continued. “It’s different from college. Guys are hanging the balls up there and coverage is getting up down there. It’s about the frontline guys and the backline guys putting a body on a body and giving him holes to run through. He’s doing fine, he’s catching the ball, he’s tracking the ball well, it’s just having the opportunity to get the ball up field and do what he can do.”
During the preseason, Thompson took back a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in Tampa, showing what he’s capable of doing when he’s confident and an opportunity presents itself. But on seven returns in the regular season, his longest has been an 11-yarder.
Thompson, though, feels he’s making progress and senses that a big return is around the corner.
“I believe so,” he said with a smile. “Can’t say when. Can’t say where.”
Thompson added that he planned to spend the bye week in Tallahassee, fielding punts on Florida State’s campus and watching his Seminoles host the Terrapins on Saturday afternoon.
And, he said, if the Seminoles win, he’ll return with a gift for cornerback Josh Wilson, a former Terp.
“Can’t wait so I can come back with a Florida State hoodie and give it to Josh,” Thompson said. “I hate to bear the bad news to him next week, but it’s coming.”