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.
Will special teams improve after a disastrous 2013?
Special teams struggled (and that’s putting it nicely) from start to finish a year ago. But the game that underscored the units’ complete and utter failure came in December against the Chiefs, who scored on 74-yard punt return and a 95-yard kickoff return. In the same quarter …at home …in Week 14. The Redskins had the wrong schemes, the wrong personnel and the wrong man in charge. The unit needed a reboot, and it arrived at season’s end when Ben Kotwica was hired to replace Keith Burns. When training camp opens this week, there will be new schemes, new players and, in the words of several veterans, a new belief. But until they go out and do it, it will be fair to wonder if special teams really are going to be better in 2014.
El-Bashir: The good news is that they can’t really be any worse. But in all seriousness, the Redskins went about fixing the issue the right way. Which is to say they started by identifying the problems and then weeding them out. Players didn’t buy into Burns’ schemes and didn’t respond to his methods of motivation. So he’s gone. A handful of players, particularly those on coverage teams, didn’t want to do it and weren’t effective. So they’ve been replaced by players who embrace the unglamorous roles, guys like veterans Adam Hayward and Akeem Jordan and fourth round draft pick Bashaud Breeland. Based on conversations I’ve had with holdovers like Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen, morale on special teams is high after OTAs and minicamp. Players believe in what Kotwica is preaching and, on teams, that’s half the battle. Training camp and the preseason will be telling, though. There are competitions at punter, kicker and both returner jobs. As long as the right personnel decisions are made at those spots, I fully expect special teams to do a 180 in 2014.
Tandler: I’m certainly in line with the “there’s no place to go but up” perspective when it comes to the Redskins’ special teams. There is really a two-step recovery program from the bad special teams play the Redskins had last year. The first one is to stop the big, negative plays from happening. Once they are no longer getting punts blocked and giving up returns for touchdowns (they gave up four last year) then they can move up to making a positive impact on the team. Fixing the first part seems to be a sure bet. Kotwica is a man with a plan and if nothing else I think that players would be terrified of coming back to the sideline and facing the former Army officer after making a costly mistake. But getting past being merely competent to excelling like Redskins special teams units of the past have done may be too big a leap. The special teams issues last year were as much cultural as they were scheme related. Too many players simply didn’t buy in to the notion that special teams are important. It might take a season or two to truly turn that ship around.