Mike Shanahan defends Keith Burns

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan defended his first-year special teams coach, Keith Burns, whose group has played poorly much of the year -- and average at best.

The Redskins allowed an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and then let up a 90-yard kickoff return that led to another touchdown.

“Keith Burns is a very excellent football coach,” Shanahan said. “Very capable. To get at this level and be in charge of something, it takes a lot of years of work to be put in those positions and I feel confident he’ll get the job done, even though we started out a little bit rough.”

Shanahan put it more on the players. It’s a unit that lost one of its longtime leaders in the offseason when Lorenzo Alexander signed with Arizona via free agency.

“Lorenzo Alexander’s not going to show up, so someone has to take control of the special teams,” Shanahan said. “One guy has to define himself. It’s us working as a group and it just takes one guy to look average.”

Average would be an improvement right now. The Redskins rank 28th covering kickoffs and 30th covering punts. They’re 30th in kick return average and 27th in punt return average. They’re struggling to create holes in the return game. And they’re still looking for a take-charge leader; Reed Doughty was named captain earlier in the year, though the Redskins don’t officially name their special teams captain until the midway point.

“When you’re voted captain you want to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,” Shanahan said. “That’s why we vote for our captain at the midway point, to see who separates himself on special teams. We’re still looking for that guy. We got a lot of guys in different positions, some new players. They’re getting used to different techniques.”

Shanahan also re-iterated that the officials missed the call on a punt with 9 minutes, 26 seconds left in the second quarter. Washington’s Jerome Murphy blocked B.W. Webb into the ball, which the Redskins recovered. But the officials ruled Webb was not an active player and therefore it wasn’t a fumble.

However, former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira told WJFK’s Grant Paulsen that he would have made the opposite call, saying Webb was an active player because he was trying to block Murphy.

The special teams lost three players to injuries Sunday: long snapper Nick Sundberg (meniscus) and Bryan Kehl (ACL), both out for the season with knee injuries; and corner David Amerson, who was drilled on a blindside block and suffered a concussion. Replays showed it was a helmet-to-helmet hit, but that doesn’t guarantee it should have been a penalty.

“It was definitely helmet to helmet,” Shanahan said. “[But] David will learn in time he has to hit that hole harder. He can’t wait. He had an excellent opportunity to go in there and make the play. That’s just a guy who’s a little inexperienced. Next time he’s in that position he’ll make the tackle.”