- Roydell Williams and many of his fellow receivers are trying to use special teams play to improve their chances of making the team (Photo: Associated Press).
Roydell Williams found himself in unfamiliar territory as he sped down the field as a gunner on the Washington Redskins punt team last Friday night. When the Buffalo Bills muffed the return and Williams wound up with a fumble recovery, he admitted “it pretty much surprised me.”
Williams is a fourth-year pro, but a rookie at special teams. He is one of several receivers on the training camp roster, who is hoping to make the team. But after Santana Moss and Joey Galloway, there is little separation among the receiving corps.
And so, in an attempt to prove themselves to be as versatile as possible, the unproven receivers are learning to play special teams.
For some of the receivers, special teams duties mean fielding punts and kicks. Third-year wideout Devin Thomas has been inconsistent as a pass-catcher, so while aiming to improve in that area, he also hopes production on returns helps his case.
Rookie’s Terrence Austin and Brandon Banks, as well as veteran offseason addition Bobby Wade, all are undersized. But effectiveness as a punt returner could help them survive cuts later this month. (Banks made an early statement, returning a punt 77 yards in last week’s preseason opener, and Austin did a decent job on returns as well).
Other receivers like Williams, Anthony Armstrong, Shay Hodge, also Thomas and Malcolm Kelly have worked on being a gunner on punt teams, which means a totally different mindset than what they are used to, because instead of avoiding tackles, they have to deliver the hits.
“I don’t know when the last time I had to tackle somebody was. Not college, not high school,” said Kelly, who did work in the offseason to learn the special teams position, but has been sidelined for all but one day of camp with a hamstring strain.
“Hopefully I can get down the field and up on the return man so he’ll just fair catch it,” Kelly joked. “But for real, I figure, hey, if it makes me more versatile, I’ll do it.”
Because versatility equals value.
Of the 80 players on the training camp roster, 11 of them are receivers. When the Redskins have to get down to 53 players, the team most likely will carry only five to six receivers.
Moss is a lock, and it appears that Galloway, who has been entrenched at the No. 2 receiver position ever since the conclusion of OTAs, appears to have a spot. Then starts the debate as to who makes the cut. And although it’s often an overlooked aspect by fans, the coaches put stock into special teams performance. That’s why players are willing to stretch themselves and study to learn a new skill.
“I think everybody knows that if you’re second team or third team, what separates players is the ability to play special teams,” Shanahan said. “If you are the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth receiver and you can play special teams then that’s extremely valuable. We’re trying to put the best team together and special teams is a big part of it.”