Keith Burns Confident Special Teams Will Improve
The first-year special teams coordinator chalked the Redskins’ early struggles up to the significant number of adjustments the units have had to make but pledged they will soon get better.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – Special teams coordinator Keith Burns acknowledged on Tuesday that the Redskins have experienced several misfortunes on special teams, but that he believes that phase of the game is getting better.
“The biggest thing is it’s always a work in progress, you know?” said Burns, the first-year coordinator. “You’re dealing with a lot of young guys. You’re changing guys in and out at the same time, but you know, I think we’re not where we want to be, but we are improving.”
The Redskins had one of their worst special teams performances against the Raiders on Sunday despite their eventual 24-14 victory. Running back Chris Thompson returned only two of seven punts for a total of 11 yards, there were no kickoff returns and one of the Redskins’ punts was blocked and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
That’s part of the reason why the Redskins’ special teams have ranked near the bottom of the league in several categories this season. Thompson’s 5.1-yard average ranks 21st among the 26 players who have returned at least one punt, and of the 17 players who have returned at least five kickoffs, his 20-yard average is tied for 14th.
The other side of the ball isn’t faring much better. Though it’s hard to evaluate the punt coverage unit because numbers don’t often take field position into account, Sav Rocca ranks last among the 33 players with at least 12 punts with a 41.1 yard-per-punt average, and he’s only one of five punters in the league who has had an attempt blocked.
Those figures led Mike Shanahan to quickly proclaim on Monday that the Redskins “have to get better” on special teams.
“We do have some guys that haven’t had a lot of experience, but we’re getting some great effort,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got to improve on our technique, but I like the effort that we do have. We just got to clean things up a little bit and we’ve got to improve. There’s no question about it.”
Thompson, a rookie, hadn’t returned punts since his senior year of high school before being asked to do it midway through the preseason. He’s still judging how to read a punt and when to return it; a stiff wind also messed with his judgment on the hang time on several of Marquette King’s punts.
“I’ve just got to continue to improve and do those little small things like that, and just be patient because one day, I believe that a big return is gonna come,” Thompson said.
➤ A version of this story appears in Wednesday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.