Through the first couple days of practice we’ve already seen a number of guys returning kicks and punts. Now some of these guys are extreme longshots to make the team so for now they won’t be included in this discussion. Even with eliminating them there are a number of intriguing options for the Redskins. Here’s a look at some of the bigger names:
-Even though Paul has added weight as a tight end, I still wouldn’t mind seeing him return kicks and punts as I think he could do a good job. The one problem I have is he is probably more valuable as a lead blocker to another return man. Given that, I think they should keep him where he is and allow him to continue being a special teams stalwart. If other guys are proving effective you can always go back to him, but hopefully someone else will be the primary option.
-Crawford is probably the early favorite after he impressed some last camp and then late in the year with his punt return to set up the game winning field goal against Baltimore. I think he’s likely to be the primary returner on punts, but it will be interesting to see if he can handle kick-offs as well. He didn’t return kicks in college (punts yes, but not kicks), and faces a pretty stiff competition group.
-As a situational punt returner I think Moss could be very effective. I know some would probably rather just keep the primary returner in that role (likely Crawford), but the idea of going with someone like Moss on a couple (maybe 10) crucial punts a year I think is smart. Moss, may have lost a step, but is still one of the faster players on the team and one of the shiftiness. He’s a great open field runner, and could come up with a couple big key returns when it matters most. Also, Moss being a veteran is a guy I’d trust to know whether or not to risk a return in a key situation. A lot of times younger guys, either want to make the big play or truly believe they won’t be caught and catch it when they shouldn’t. Not only does that increase the risk of fumbles, but it means they are potentially wasting valuable seconds off the clock to pick up little yardage.
-Hall would be another veteran situational guy and could even be in on some kick-off units as well at certain times. While Moss would be the first veteran guy in that role, Hall is a good choice as well. He’s very good in the open field and still has really good speed. I don’t know if I’d say his decision making is on par with Moss, but it would probably be better than a number of the younger guys. Having Hall work on returns is good for depth purposes as well. Some of the other guys like Crawford, Robinson and Thompson, could be inactive on game days. So if Crawford is the primary returner, and Robinson and Thompson are inactive, if Crawford goes down someone would need to be ready to fill in for him. In that scenario Paul would be an option, but that would weaken the unit, so a veteran like Hall could step in.
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-Robinson did some kick-off returning in college and has had some opportunities the last two camps, though Brandon Banks took the lionshare of the work. Robinson doesn’t have much punt return background and is probably not the best fit there, but he could win the kickoff return job. He has possibly the best top end speed on this team and could be electric if blockers can allow him to get a good start. If he can win the job it will also help ensure he’s active and winning a roster spot over veterans like Stallworth and Henderson. If Robinson wins the kick-off job and Crawford the punt return duties, the Redskins will have an all SMU return unit.
-I think many would love to see Chris Thompson win this job, as a way to ensure his roster spot and get his playmaking ability on the field. My guess is he’s a bit of a longshot at this point. He had just 1 punt return and 8 career kickoff returns at FSU. Considering that he missed all of rookie camp through mini-camp, he’s already behind the curve. While it is good that he’s getting some reps in camp for the future (similar to Robinson the last two years), I don’t see the Redskins going with a primary returner who is so inexperienced. Another factor is the fact that Thompson is coming off a spine injury two years ago and an ACL last year, do you really want this guy returning kicks? Maybe it is something that could be looked at towards the future, but right now it is not the best option.