Special Teams Will Be Critical For Washington Redskins in 2013

By Greg Bradshaw
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been written about the Washington Redskins’ offensive and defensive units. In 2012, both units have provided excitement and consternation for Redskins’ fans everywhere. It can be reasoned that both units will provide more of the same for Washington in 2013. Superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III will lead the Redskins’ offense in an effort to retain the proficiency they enjoyed last season.  The defense will attempt to integrate veterans returning from injury, as well as a few rookies, in their attempts to improve a unit that was dismal at times in 2012.

Lost in the shuffle has been the Redskins’ special teams unit.  Washington’s placekicking game has been solid, thanks to placekicker Kai Forbath, who converted 17 of 18 field goal attempts in 2012. Tight end Niles Paul and cornerback Richard Crawford are the Redskins’ main kick returners. While neither invokes visions of great kick returners like the Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester, Paul and Crawford are adequate return men that haven’t hurt Washington with paltry returns or fumbled kick returns.

The performance of the Redskins’ kick coverage unit will be critical to the team’s success in 2013. Washington didn’t allow a kick return touchdown in 2012, and allowed only eight yards per punt return. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was the main reason for the Redskins’ special teams efficiency, recording 19 special teams tackles in 2012 to lead the NFL. Unfortunately, Alexander left the team to sign a three year, $9 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. That leaves a void on special teams that will be difficult to fill.

Redskins’ linebacker Rob Jackson spent most of his career being efficient on special teams. He was inserted into the starting lineup early last season after linebacker Brian Orakpo suffered a season ending triceps injury.  Now that Orakpo is back, Jackson is expected to reprise his special teams role. Unfortunately, Jackson will be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 NFL season after testing for a banned substance.

The loss of Alexander and Jackson exacerbates the strain placed on the coverage unit. Washington can overcome these losses with precision punting from punter Sav Rocca. He needs to focus on launching deep, booming punts that will either result in fair catches or go out of bounds. This not only alleviates pressure off the return unit, but also an embattled defense that won’t have to defend a short field after special teams gives up a lengthy return.

Washington finished 10-6 in 2012 to earn the NFC East title. The Redskins’ special teams played a pivotal role in at least two of their victories last season. If Forbath can continue his solid kicking, and if the Redskins’ kick coverage team shows improvement, Washington will be much improved in 2013.

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