With a new head coach, some intriguing free agents and a quarterback on the comeback trail, the 2014 Redskins are loaded with storylines. Between now and the start of training camp, Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will be examining the top 30 questions the Redskins face as they get ready for the season.
Who will be the Redskins’ punt returner in 2014?
As we’ve established, oh, about a hundred times, special teams were an unmitigated disaster last season, from both a coaching and personnel standpoint. And the revolving door at punt returner was emblematic of those struggles. Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, Chris Thompson and Nick Williams each handled the duties at one time or another. In the end, the Redskins wound up ranked 28th in average per return (6.4 yards), had just one return of 20 or more yards and no touchdowns. As a result, there will be a change in 2014. But who gets the nod?
El-Bashir: No. 3 wide receiver Andre Roberts has said he wants to handle punt and kickoff return duties, a double he performed as a rookie in 2010 with the Cardinals. Roberts’ numbers were not exceptional, but the 26-year-old believes he’s better prepared to succeed now that he’s four years into his NFL career. That said, with training camp set to open in less than two weeks, I also don’t think anything has been determined yet. Having Roberts handle punts, kicks and receiver duty would provide Jay Gruden with some roster flexibility. But if Roberts only handles kickoffs (as he’s hinted), I’d expect the primary candidates to return punts to be Thompson, Williams, Moss and Richard Crawford (assuming he’s recovered from a bad knee injury). And from that group, I’d expect Thompson to arrive in Richmond with a leg up on the competition. When healthy, he’s fast, elusive, sees the field well and, if you recall, wrapped up the job last preseason with a 69-yard return for a touchdown vs. the Buccaneers. Hampering his chances to clinch the job, though, is the logjam at running back. One more thought: although DeSean Jackson is probably too valuable to be the full-time punt returner, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him deployed from time to time.
Tandler: I would not be surprised if Thompson was the first choice to win the job; he can be a game breaker. He’s also, well, breakable. Thompson hasn’t made it through any of the last three seasons (one with the Redskins, two at Florida State) unscathed so they had better have a solid Plan B. That’s won’t be Jackson although Jay Gruden certainly will be tempted to occasionally drop back a guy who can make plays like this 2010 return against the Giants. Perhaps Williams or Crawford will get another shot but neither is a sure thing to be on the 53-man roster. That leaves Roberts, who as the third receiver isn’t going anywhere. With his 6.9-yard career average on 40 returns with a long of 25 yards, Roberts won’t have the fans on the edge of their seats when he goes back to field a punt. However, he has demonstrated that he has the ability to field punts and advance forward, something that was not a given for the Redskins in 2013.