Wary Of Washington Weapon

When scouting an upcoming opponent, most of the attention from fans and media — and sometimes, it seems, from coaches and players — is understandably focused on the offense and defense. It makes perfect sense.

But when asked about Sunday's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, one of the first players Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett mentioned was Leon Washington. Yes, he is listed officially as a running back, but where Washington really stands out is on special teams, returning both punts and kickoffs for the Seahawks. Garrett threw around words like "dynamic" and "dangerous" when describing Washington, making the compact (5-foot-8, 203-pound) sixth-year veteran from Florida State sound like perhaps the team's most lethal weapon.

The praise Garrett heaped on Washington was not without merit. Washington ranks sixth in the NFL with an average of 12.0 yards on 20 punt returns this year, including a long of 36 yards. He ranks 19th on kickoff returns, averaging 23.4 yards on 23 returns, including a long of 43 yards. In his career, he has returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns. Twice he took three back for scores in a single season, including 2010, when he produced a career-long return of 101 yards.

In last week's Seattle loss to Cincinnati, Washington returned three punts for 38 yards (12.7 per return) and five kickoffs for 142 yards (28.4 yards per return, with a long of 43).

Garrett isn't the only one who admires Washington's skills. Dallas kickoff specialist David Buehler said that when he and the other kickers study upcoming opponents' special teams, they often spend as much time on the groups of blockers in front of the returner than they do on the guy who actually will end up trying to catch the ball.

"We study returners a lot," Buehler said. "I always want to kick it out of the back of the end zone, but in case I don't, you have to know their tendencies, what they like to do once they get the ball.

"Some guys are really shifty guys who change direction a lot, but (Washington) is a great north-south kind of guy. He looks like a really natural runner with great balance and great vision."

Buehler said he understands the tendency to compare players to others around the National Football League who share certain characteristics. In Washington's case, there is a natural tendency to compare him to other return specialists who lack what some might call "ideal" height.

"He is a lot different returner than Brandon Banks (of the Washington Redskins) or (Stefan) Logan (of the Detroit Lions). They're about the same height, I guess (Banks is listed an inch shorter than Washington, at 5-7; Logan is listed at 5-6). But those guys are more shifty. (Washington) has really good vision, and he hits the hole really hard.

"We have to remember he is a running back returning kicks, and he runs like it."

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