10 Most Pivotal Redskins in 2003

Two years ago, Bryan Barker made the Redskins as their punter for one reason: consistency. Marty Schottenheimer preferred the 11-year veteran over the younger Rodney Williams, who had a more powerful leg because Marty wasn't willing to pay the price of the occasional shank by the younger punter in exchange for greater distance the rest of the time.

When Steve Spurrier took over last year, his philosophy was pretty much in line with Schottenheimer's in this regard. No serious challenger to Barker was brought in to training camp in 2002.

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. In this case, Spurrier got the consistency that he wanted, but Barker's punting was consistently bad. His average of 40.1 yards a punt was third-worst in the NFL. His net average of 30.0 yards was by far the worst in the league, a full yard and a half behind the next worst punter.

The Redskins opponents averaged a net of 32.7 yards per punt—not a great number, about middle of the pack—so that means that on each exchange of punts the Redskins lost nearly three yards. That doesn't seem like a lot, but with about 10 punts combined per game that's over 400 yards of lost field position over the course of the season.

There was the mediocre, and then there was the awful. The Redskins went into Jacksonville with a two-game winning streak and a 4-4 record. They led 7-0 in the second quarter when a Barker punt traveled 12 yards, setting up a Jags' touchdown to tie the game. Later in the same period, another punt traveled just 33 yards, leading to a Jacksonville field goal just before halftime. The gift points gave the Jaguars the momentum and they rolled on in the second half to send the Skins' season off track.

It is anticipated that the Redskins' offense will be stronger this year, and errors in the punting game may be slightly easier to overcome. Still, a 30-yard net average isn't going to cut it. Barker needs to be better; even a move up to mediocre might be acceptable.

We will see if Barker is up to the task. If not, the feeling that the Redskins' 2003 punter is someone not currently on the roster will continue to grow.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com

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