There could be substantial changes to the special teams, so the preview is a little different than those for the eight positions.
Battles to watch
- Graham Gano vs. Neil Rackers. Gano finished strong in 2011, making 14 of his last 15 field goals. He was solid on kickoffs, as expected, with a strong leg and mostly good directional kicks. Can’t blame the five blocked field goals on him as the blocking clearly broke down. But even if he’d made all five kicks he would have been at 88 percent – or lower than Rackers’ percentage in three of the last four years. But Gano’s youth (11 years younger) gives him an edge. However he still needs to prove himself. Had the rosters not been expanded to 90, I’m not sold that Rackers would be in camp. He’ll be much tougher competition than Shayne Graham last summer.
- Brandon Banks vs. Aldrick Robinson/Terrence Austin. Anyone who wins this job must show that they can help at receiver. Banks was subpar as a returner last season, partly because his knee kept him from being as explosive on his cuts as he had been in the past. Even if he’s healthy early in camp you have to wonder about his durability. He’s a potential playmaker, but last season he averaged 23.0 yards on kickoffs and 9.1 on punt returns (teams did a good job pinning him to a side; he likes to run left because he feels he cuts better that way. Teams often forced him to run right). He dropped two yards in each category from the previous season. And he dropped the ball a combined seven times on returns. Robinson struggled to catch the ball on returns last summer, but spent the season working on returns. Has he improved? No idea. But he has the ability to help at receiver too – if he looks as good this summer as he did in the spring. I’ve always liked Austin’s footwork on punts; quick and enables him to get decent returns. He’s not a burner and he’ll have a hard time making it as a receiver as well.
Strengths: The coverage units. Washington is blessed with a big guy who can run in Lorenzo Alexander. He has linebacker size and a defensive linemen’s mentality, which means double teams often mean nothing. He’s a tone setter…Long snapper Nick Sundberg was inconsistent in his first training camp three summers ago, but after a month he really settled into it and has been solid. … b will always be a help on special teams because of his competitiveness. Like Alexander, he’s the definition of a football player. You just have to find a spot on your team where he can stick…Punter Sav Rocca had a strong season before hurting his ankle late. The Redskins would be thrilled with a repeat. When the coverage units are strong, it often starts with the punter (hangtime/direction) and Rocca excelled. Graham Gano’s kickoffs were excellent, helping the coverage as well…
Weaknesses: The return game was bad last season, a surprise given the expectations. The offense consistently had to drive long distances after touchdowns, rarely getting a short field. Makes a difference. Part of that stemmed from the new kickoff rules, but Banks’ returns yielded little… Do I need to point out that field goal and extra point protection were a problem? Five blocked field goals says it all. Special teams coach Danny Smith must get this fixed. Smith is considered an excellent special teams coach, but when your group allows that many blocks it’s on everyone. The vets, however, know that the guys who had allowed those blocks had been taught the same things they had been in terms of how to react to certain fronts. They just failed. I don’t get how players who are backups fail in this role. It’s what their on the roster to do. Having players such as Kedric Golston back and healthy will help the blocking.
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