Keith Burns: 'Always going to have some breakdowns'
The Redskins surrendered another punt return for a touchdown Sunday, but first-year special teams coordinator Keith Burns said his units also made incremental improvement in the team’s 45-41 victory over the Bears.
Burns also said he believes the Redskins have the right personnel to get things turned around and that it’s up to him to put them in a position to succeed.
“[It] was a step in a right direction,” Burns said Monday at Redskins Park. “Did we play a perfect game? No. But we’re still in search of just that.”
Head Coach Mike Shanahan agreed with Burns' assessment.
"I think we improved drastically, even though it doesn’t sound like it because of the punt return for a touchdown [by Devin Hester], but if you watch our kickoff coverage, I think [newly acquired Trenton] Robinson really helped us and [Josh] Hull came in and did a great job," Shanahan said. "You could see the sense of urgency on our football team. If you watched all of the special teams play-by-play, you saw a team that was playing extremely hard – not that we can’t get better."
Burns and the Redskins’ special teams units have come under fire in recent weeks because of repeated miscues. In Oakland, the Raiders parlayed a blocked punt into a touchdown and converted a fake punt. In Dallas, Dwayne Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 90 yards to set up another score. Against the Bears, Hester took a punt back 81 yards for a TD. The Redskins also came close to giving up an onside kick in the fourth quarter, but were bailed out by a penalty on Chicago.
“It’s small breakdowns,” Burns said. “It’s a play here, a play there. Anytime you’re playing against a returner such as the one we played against [Sunday], he’s always dangerous regardless of when and where he gets the ball at. You try to keep the ball out of his hands at certain times but sometimes you’re going to be forced to put the ball in his hands. And that was one of those times. I don’t think it [was] for a lack of effort that the guys gave. …The guys were working hard and we just have to continue to do that.”
Indeed, Burns and his units have plenty of work to do in the coming days and weeks.
Through six games, the punt coverage unit ranks 32nd, while the kickoff and punt return units rank 31st and 28th.
Burns said he believes the problems are related to players still adjusting to his schemes and inexperience, both of which have led to costly miscues.
“When you’re so used to being in one system for so many years, that’s part of it,” said Burns, a former Broncos assistant who replaced Danny Smith in the offseason after Smith left for Pittsburgh. “What I bring to the table, I’ve played in five different special teams systems and I’ve coached in three different special teams systems. So I’ve always taken a little part from each …and I’m bringing it here to Washington. It’s always going to take time. But at the same time, it’s my job is to go out there and get the guys playing hard and I think everyone started to doing that, just like they showed [Sunday].”
He added: “I don’t think it had anything to do with buying in; everything was new to them. It’s no different than when you put in a new offense or a new defense.”
Burns also disputed the notion that his units don’t have enough players who are passionate about playing special teams. He did, however, acknowledge that there is a steep adjustment period for young players, particularly those who were stars in college.
“We have those guys,” he said, asked if he has enough committed players. “Some guys coming out of college, they haven’t had to cover a kick or cover a punt. It’s different here in the real world, the NFL. Everybody has been the guy where they’ve been. At this level, you have to wait your turn. Until your turn comes, you have to perform and perform well on special teams… in order to stay on the 53-man roster.”
Burns also acknowledged that he “challenged” his units after the Cowboys’ game.
“I kind of challenged the guys,” he said. “It’s all about them understanding what it takes to play at a certain level. They have a standard. They have pride. Nobody is ever content with the way things are going right now. In order to get it fixed we pick up things we do in practice, clean those things up and transfer it over to the game, which I thing we did Sunday.”
Speaking of challenges, it gets no easier for the Redskins this Sunday in Denver, where they’ll face 5 foot 5, 170-pound Trindon Holliday, who ranks third in kickoff return average (34.9 yards per) and 11th in punt return average.
“He’s no different than the guy we played last week,” said Burns, who coached Holliday last season. “He’s a tremendous athlete, an elite returner in this league. It’s just another challenge we have this week. We were lucky to get Trindon [off waivers] last year, but last year was last year. I’m here in Washington and we have to take care of the business at hand here.”
Burns also reiterated that he’s not going to scrap what he believes in.
“I came in my plan and I’m still sticking to my plan,” he said. “And we’ll see where it goes from there.”