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Special Teams Coordinator Keith Burns Sticking To Plan

While the Redskins’ special teams units rank near the bottom of several statistical categories after six games, Burns said Monday it’s too early to completely give up on his schemes.

BY ZAC BOYER

ASHBURN – Keith Burns said Monday he believes an overall inexperience of players on the special teams units is why the Redskins have been so poor in that phase of the game through six games.

Burns

Burns, in his first year as the Redskins’ special teams coordinator, said he understood the questions surrounding the units’ effectiveness. Entering Sunday, the Redskins allowed 26.4 yards per kickoff return and 19.1 yards per punt return to rank 28th and last, respectively, in the league.

But Burns maintained that he’s “still sticking to [his] plan” and, in a week where some players questioned his schemes, he said he put the burden on them to do their part in improving.

“I kind of challenged the guys,” Burns said. “It’s all about them, basically, understanding what it takes to go out there and play at a certain level. They have a standard. They have pride. You know, nobody’s ever content with the way things are going now, so in order to get it fixed, we pick up things we do in practice, clean those things up and then just transfer it over to the game on Sunday, which I think we did and we’ll continue to do that.”

Burns said he saw improvement on the special teams units on Sunday, when the Redskins defeated the Bears 45-41 at FedEx Field, but there were still glaring errors. Most notably, the Redskins’ punt coverage allowed a touchdown for the third consecutive game when Devin Hester had an 81-yard touchdown return.

The Redskins have also struggled on kickoff coverage at times, and their return game has been poor as well. Rookie running back Chris Thompson, thrust into a role as a return specialist at the end of the preseason when cornerback Richard Crawford sustained a season-ending knee injury, was benched after the Week 3 loss to the Lions and replaced by receiver Joshua Morgan – who hasn’t fared much better.

Tight end Niles Paul, who represented the special teams units for the coin toss on Sunday, said last week that players “have to go to trusting what Keith does” after Danny Smith left in January after nine seasons as the Redskins’ special teams coordinator.

“I understand it from a player’s perspective, because when you’re so used to doing it and being in one system for so many years, that’s part of it,” Burns said. “But what I bring to the table – I’ve played in five different special teams systems. I’ve coached in three different special teams systems, so I’ve always taken a little part from each – the ones that I’ve played in and the ones that I’ve coached in, I’m bringing it here to Washington, so it’s gonna always take time.”

And, Burns said, the need to have a core group of special teams players is instrumental. Understanding that many of the players who are on the units are inexperienced, Burns said there’s a greater need for them to understand their assignments because they haven’t done it before.

That’s where leadership can come in. If some of the Redskins’ special teams veterans can help the more inexperienced players, the units should improve. Reed Doughty, who has played special teams extensively since joining the Redskins in 2006, said last week he’d take a more vocal role and planned to ask players to stay after practice Friday for additional film review.

“You just stand up and tell the guys, ‘If this is something that you talk about and you want to do, just don’t talk about it. We’ve got to start being about it,’” Burns said. “I think that’s what a leader will step up and do.”

Mike Shanahan said last week that in wake of the poor special teams performance in a loss to the Cowboys on Oct. 13, he’d spend additional time overseeing the units. What he saw Sunday, he said, was a drastic improvement.

“It’s all about guys just getting together and being on one page at one time, because the difference on special teams – you don’t get a first down, second down, third down, fourth down,” Burns said. “You only get one down, and we have to be good at that one.”

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