At first thought it would be the loss of Lorenzo Alexander to Arizona. But I think the biggest change is obvious. After being the one coach who survived multiple regimes, Danny Smith moved onto Pittsburgh and Mike Shanahan brought in one of his former players, Keith Burns to coach Special Teams.
Burns will have to deal with losing the former leader of the special teams Lorenzo Alexander so finding a new leader will be key. Two names that come up immediately are Reed Doughty and Niles Paul. Both have excelled in coverage over the years and Burns will need huge contributions from both of those guys.
Losing the One Man Gang will make us nervous on coverage teams and it must have concerned the coaches as well. Washington brought it John Potter as a kickoff specialist during the summer in an attempt to get more touchbacks. But Potter was let go and Kai Forbath will continue to handle kickoffs. Good news is that so far his kickoffs have seemed farther than last season. Danny Smith did use a system that had his kickers try and pin the kickoffs in the corner rather than go for touchbacks so that may have hurt Forbath’s percentage.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out if Forbath allows returners a chance to return kicks. Without Alexander others will need to step up and so far it has been sketchy at best watching opponents return kickoffs. The defense is still suspect so making teams go a little farther than they hoped will be an important factor. Maybe making them go a few extra plays which allows for a couple more attempts at causing a turnover. Once again guys like Paul and Doughty will be asked to step in for the loss of “Zo”.
The third preseason game changed how the Redskins are going to handle returns when Richard Crawford went down. It open up an opportunity for many including rookie Chris Thompson who stepped up and ran a punt back the distance in the last preseason game. Thompson had the explosiveness and this is what Shanahan needed to see to keep him on the 53 instead of just for his play as a running back.
But I think the team has to be concerned that Thompson could make a huge mistake due to his inexperience. That is where guys like Santana Moss and DeAngelo Hall figure into the mix. Older vets that are needed for their regular spots but both are reliable as the punt returners. I have been pulling for Santana to work in as the punt returner for a couple seasons and still think he can make plays in that spot. But I think it is Thompson’s spot to lose now.
As for kickoffs Niles Paul should figure in as the guy to get the first crack Monday night since he finished last season and did fine. Kickoff returns are limited and so are returners as being huge factors. I could see Thompson or even Roy Helu figuring into the mix here but I think Shanahan has Helu figuring into a decent size roll with the offensive starters at times. Out of all the special teams jobs this is the one I have the least concern with. The team should mainly be concerned with ball security and staying away from penalties causing horrible field position.
Kai Forbath was a great find for the Redskins and finally they seem to have a consistent kicker. Consistent may be an understatement, solid lock may be better. Forbath is now 29 for 30 since the start of the 2012 preseason. Pretty amazing stuff.