While a lot has been made about continuity for the Redskins going into the 2013-2014 season, one major change was made to the coaching staff during the offseason.
Danny Smith coached Washington's special teams since 2004, but decided to leave the organization after last season. Smith joined the Pittsburgh Steelers to be closer to his family.
In his place enters Keith Burns, who coached special teams with the Denver Broncos for the last seven seasons. Burns played 13 seasons in the NFL, 10 of those under Redskins coach Mike Shanahan in Denver.
According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos special teams ranked 13th in the league last season while the Redskins landed 27th on the list.
Usually a strong unit, what many may remember from the Broncos special teams was return man Trindon Holliday. In a playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season, Holliday put up video game statistics.
He amassed an NFL record 248 return yards and returned both a punt and a kickoff all the way for touchdowns. No player in NFL history had ever run back a punt and kickoff in a playoff game.
And, not to be topped, Holliday’s two touchdown returns (the punt return touchdown went for 90 yards, the kickoff return touchdown went 104 yards) set postseason records.
Burns may not be able to duplicate the success he found with Holliday, but the same schemes and principals will be brought to the Redskins.
Through a series of Organized Team Activities, Redskins special teamers seem to be on board with their new coach.
“Keith is a great coach,” Redskins cornerback Richard Crawford said.
With his eyes on the punt returner role, Crawford has a lot to gain from his relationship with Burns.
“You [saw] it in Denver, what he did with Trindon Holliday,” Crawford said. “He knows what he’s doing, we just have to buy into it. I’ve already bought in, I’m just trying to improve on what he wants me to improve on.”
Crawford isn’t the only specialist encouraged by Burns.
“It’s been pretty smooth,” Redskins kicker Kai Forbath said of the transition from Smith to Burns.
“[Burns is] not a guy that came in here and tries to change our technique. He knows that it’s our craft and we work on it. It’s been great so far.”
Nick Sundberg, veteran long snapper for the Skins, said that he is still getting to know the former Bronco.
“When you’ve had one coach for a while, and then a new coach comes in, it’s just about learning his ways,” Sundberg said. “We’re just getting to know each other still at this point.”
Last season, the Skins did not return a single kickoff for a touchdown. If Burns can bring any of that Holliday magic, the transition from Smith will prove to be smooth.