The Washington Redskins improved their special teams performance last season, which was a little surprising given some of the players they lost to injuries. Based on their signings this offseason, they want to make sure nothing changes -- and, they hope, to improve their play in this area.
Though Pittsburgh did not offer Garvin a contract, almost ensuring the potential restricted free agent would have stuck around, his special teams play was considered positive. Bruton might end up starting in Washington, but he was known in Denver for his special teams performance.
"Those guys are going to help, they’re also going to compete for starting jobs," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last month at the owners meetings. "I think that’s part of the draw that they came here. They want to compete for starting jobs at their position. But the bonus is that they’re very good special teams players too, which helps."
It’s hard to quantify special teams play, because it encompasses so many areas. The Dallas Morning News’ Rick Gosselin has ranked special teams for years based on various metrics (using 22 kicking game categories); this past season he had the Redskins 13th in the NFL. They were 30th in 2014 and last the year before.
The Redskins lost core special teamers such as Niles Paul, Adam Hayward and Logan Paulsen before last season began, making a big improvement more difficult. But they received steady contributions from players such as defensive back Deshazor Everett, who played well here down the stretch.
"Everett is a very good special teams player, he’s going to have to continue to step up and play good special teams," Gruden said.
It will remain important when it comes to finding players. At times in previous years the Redskins did not receive anything other than return help from their receivers. And some young players a couple years ago felt they were above special teams.
The Redskins have two young kickers they like quite a bit in punter Tress Way and place kicker Dustin Hopkins. In 2014, the Redskins ranked 23rd in opponents yards per kick return (25.84); this season year they ranked fourth (20.07). Hopkins’ kickoffs plus better coverage led the improvement (they improved two spots in opposing punt returns, from 19th to 17th). They ranked 31st in punt returns, so there is definite room for improvement here. But they were ninth in kickoff returns
The Redskins are still trying to build a stronger defense, but in the meantime feel good about what they have on offense and special teams.
"It’s an area that we really have to be serious about, finding the right people, not just adding good wide receivers," Gruden said. "We have to find a wide receiver that’s good on special teams also. Our fourth corner has got to be a dynamo on special teams, whoever that is. Our third and fourth inside linebacker. They’ve got to be good special teams players. You’d like to have your fourth outside linebacker be good special teams players, your third running back possibly. We’ve got to find those spots, we’ve got to really dial in our search to the players that fit those spots and continue to address special teams."