Confidence Key On Chris Thompson’s Punt Returns
The rookie running back is still adjusting to his role as a punt returner, and there were no greater growing pains than the two decisions he made in the opener.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – If practice makes perfect, Chris Thompson will be one of the greatest punt returners in the league by the end of the season.
The rookie running back has not only caught punts during the special teams portions of practice, but he’s been working on returning punts before and after practice as well.
That’s the type of adjustment Thompson needs as he settles into a role that he hasn’t had since high school.
“[Keith Burns, the special teams coach] told me the other day, ‘By the end of the season, you’re going to catch 2,000 punts in practice,’ so I’m excited to just get at practice every day and just continue to catch punts and continue to get more and more confidence,” Thompson said.
Thompson took over as the Redskins’ punt returner in the preseason game against the Bills, and he returned one 69 yards for a touchdown in the final preseason game against the Buccaneers. Richard Crawford, the punt returner at the end of last season, tore ligaments in his left knee and will miss the entire season.
His regular-season debut was slightly less impressive. Thompson fair caught his first punt at the 5-yard line and then returned his second try, which he fielded at the 6, for five yards.
Part of that, Thompson said, is because he didn’t realize he was drifting that far back to make the catch. Burns also has told Thompson he needs to catch every catchable punt.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I was just trying to catch every catchable punt and not try to lose any yards,” Thompson said. “But that punt I caught at the 5, I shouldn’t have backed up for it. It’s just a bad decision by me. But I just got to continue to improve.”
A fifth-round pick out of Florida State, Thompson never returned a punt in college. His last punt return was in his senior year of high school, in which the Madison County (Fla.) standout returned one 50 yards for a touchdown against Wakulla.
“I was pleased though. He had the guts to go back there and at least catch it with a lot of people around him,” Mike Shanahan said. “The more experienced he gets, the better he’s going to be. They had some great coverage and there were not a lot of holes there. I was pleased with his effort, but those decisions are going to have to improve.”