Competition for kick returner set to heat up

Competition for kick returner set to heat up
August 1, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Stiff competition for final Redskins' roster spots

RICHMOND – One of the more intriguing position battles set to unfold over the coming weeks will be at kick returner. 

Last season, the job belonged to Brandon Banks and then Niles Paul. 

And while Paul performed well, averaging 24.9 per return in the last five regular season games, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be new special teams coordinator Keith Burns’ pick to be the Redskins’ No. 1.

“I would love to do kick returns again,” Paul said Thursday. “Last year, the last few games, [former special teams coach Danny Smith] saw something in me. Now I’ve got to show a whole different coach, so that he can trust me to be a dominant returner in this league." 

During Wednesday’s practice, Paul was one of a number of candidates Burns appears to be considering for the job. Among the other notables were cornerbacks Josh Wilson and Richard Crawford, wide receivers Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson, Syke Dawson, Nick Williams as well as running backs Evan Royster and Roy Helu. Rookie running back Chris Thompson is also being considered, as is wide receiver Chip Reeves.

Wilson led the league in kickoff return yards in 2008 as a member of the Seahawks with 1,753, but did not return any last season. Crawford appears to be the leading candidate for the punt returner job. Robinson, meantime, is also an intriguing candidate because of his blazing speed. But, like many of the others, he lacks NFL experience as a returner.

The competition appears to be muddled at the moment, but this much seems clear: the Redskins are not leaning toward carrying a return specialist as they did with Banks in 2012. Whoever claims the kick return job most likely will have to be one of the players on the 46-man game day roster.

It’s tough for undrafted college free agents like Dawson, Williams and Reeves to stand out in practice because they’re not going “live”. Their opportunity will arrive when the preseason slate opens at Tennessee next Thursday.

“There’s a lot of talent back there, a lot of guys all competing, pushing each other, trying to get better,” said Williams, who averaged 25.9 yards per return at UConn, including a nation leading 35.3 as a sophomore. “That’s the tough thing about special teams: it’s hard to show what you can do unless you’re getting live looks. Then in games, it’s about your opportunity. If you are in there and you get the right kick at the right time and hope that everybody has blocked it up right, and then take advantage of it. But you can’t simulate the games.”