- Rookie kick/punt returner Brandon Banks was a bright spot on special teams for the Redskins. (Photo: Jay Westcott)
We’re down to the final unit evaluation of the Washington Redskins’ season, and that’s special teams.
The Redskins this year had bright spots in the form of Brandon Banks on returns, Lorenzo Alexander & Co. on coverage units and Graham Gano on kickoffs. But then there were glaring weaknesses in the form of Gano’s field goal struggles and poor punter play.
Let’s break it down.
Kickoffs -- Redskins this season held opponents to the fifth-lowest average on kick returns (19.0 yards a runback). Graham Gano had a pretty strong leg, and Lorenzo Alexander, Mike Sellers, Chris Wilson, Kedric Golston and H.B. Blades led the kickoff coverage units with some big hits, and Washington didn’t give up a return for a touchdown all year.
Kick returns -- Washington had the 14th-best kick return average (23.0 yards a return). Individually, Brandon Banks had a strong rookie season, averaging 25.1 yards a kick return, and he had a 96-yard return for a touchdown. He had two other returns for a touchdown called back because of penalties away from the ball.
Punts -- The Redskins had three punters this year and didn't get great results from any of them. Josh Bidwell was hampered by a hip injury and wound up on injured reserve. Hunter Smith returned and also had a lower average, and two days after his botched hold at the end of the Tampa Bay game, he was released. Smith was told it was because he didn't have good hang time on his punts. But Sam Paulescu also was brought back, but he actually was worse. The three punters posted a combined 40.6-yard average, which ranked 30th in the league. With punters failing to boom the ball deep and unable to get good hang time, the Redskins’ punt coverage unit struggled as well and gave up 12.6 yards a return, which ranked 29th in the NFL.
Punt returns -- Fueled by Banks, the Redskins ranked 10th in the NFL with an average of 10.8 yards a return. Banks' longest punt return this season was 53 yards.
Field goals -- Gano struggled in his first full season in the NFL, making only 24 of 35 attempts, and his .690 clip was the lowest in the league kickers that kicked on a regular basis. Mike Shanahan believes that Gano’s problems were mentally-related. The young kicker could routinely make field goals from 60 yards out in practice, but then he’d miss a 25-yarder wide left in games. Another shaky aspect of the field goal team were the snaps, as long-snapper Nick Sundberg was good for a couple of high or low snaps here and there.
Overall grade -- C-
The struggles of Gano and the punters overshadowed solid efforts by the kick and punt return units. The Redskins need to find a more consistent punter this offseason, and it wouldn’t be surprised if they brought in a kicker to compete with Gano. The young kicker plans on changing his technique and expects that to bring more consistency. Banks got off to a hot start, but was limited in the second half of the season by a bad knee. He never was quite right following his surgery to repair a partial meniscus tear. He probably rushed back a little prematurely.