Redskins position outlook: specialists

Redskins position outlook: specialists
February 10, 2014, 11:30 am
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Washington Redskins punter Sav Rocca (6) kicks the ball during the second quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field.

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Over the next few weeks, CSNWashington.com’s Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2013 and evaluate the outlook for 2014. This morning, we’re examining the Redskins’ individual specialists (not special teams units). This afternoon, we’ll take a look at the spots that need shoring up, so be sure to come back.

Grade: D

2013 starters: PK Kai Forbath, LS Nick Sundberg, P Sav Rocca, PR Santana Moss, KR Nick Williams 

Key reserves: PR Richard Crawford, PR/KR Chris Thompson, LS Kyle Nelson, KR Niles Paul

Free agents: Moss

Rewind: This is a tricky one because we’re not dissecting the overall performance of the special teams units, which, for the most part, were abysmal. We’re evaluating the individual performances of the kicker, returners, etc.

Let’s start with Forbath, who, after suffering a groin injury early on, finished strong. The second-year kicker went 13-of-13 on field goals in the final eight games to finish 18 of 22. His kickoffs could still stand improving, as he recorded only 14 touchbacks. Kicker, though, is not one of the Redskins’ problems.

Sundberg, although generally considered one of the game’s top snappers, gets an incomplete grade after suffering his second serious injury in as many seasons. In 2012, he suffered a broken arm and missed eight games. Last season, a knee injury limited him to five contests.

Rocca, meantime, struggled, ranking 30th in average yards per punt (42.0) and 33rd in net (33.8). The 40-year-old was a favorite of former head coach Mike Shanahan; the new regime has no such allegiance.

RELATED: [Redskins 2013 season encapsulated in one number]

Crawford likely would have been the punt returner, but the second-year cornerback suffered a major knee injury in the preseason and is still rehabbing.

Thompson got a shot, but a shoulder injury shut him down after only four games.

As for the other returners, let’s put it this way: although they weren’t helped by first-year coach Keith Burns’ new schemes, the hodgepodge group didn’t really distinguish itself, either. Moss returned more punts than anyone else (18) and averaged 7.2 per, while Paul returned the majority of kickoffs (20) and averaged 20.6 per. 

Fast forward: Sundberg and Forbath shouldn't have any trouble hanging onto their jobs. The same, however, cannot be said about the other specialists.

Can’t imagine Rocca won’t, at the very least, face competition this offseason. He had some booming punts last season. But he had too many costly short ones, too. Remember his 15-yarder in the fourth quarter of a tied game in Denver?

Also can’t imagine the Redskins entering the 2014 season without knowing who will be returning kickoffs and who will be handling punts. (In retrospect, it should have been a red flag last training camp when Burns, who was fired along with Shanahan, had what seemed like half the team trying out at both return spots.) Moss, at 34, bailed out the Redskins when all else failed, but new special teams coach Ben Kotwica will likely seek out another option. Paul, meantime, is much better at seeking out the returner for a big hit than actually being the returner.

If Crawford is healthy, he figures to get another opportunity to return punts. But, as we saw with Robert Griffin III early last season, there’s a big difference between being able to play and being able to make cuts at full speed.

Thompson and Williams also figure to get a shot. Both are smallish, shifty and possess good speed. But they’ll also need a very strong offseason to secure a job. 

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