Stock takes stock of punt returners

The Redskins continued to audition punt returners during the coaching sessions this week. One thing's for certain: Cliff Russell has the speed, but not the hands. He dropped five in Thursday's workout alone. But special teams coach Mike Stock said the eventual returner likely will be chosen from among Jacquez Green, Fred Smoot and Champ Bailey.

Q: What's your assessment of the punt return situation?

A: We've got a list of people we have to look at. If Eric Metcalf were here we wouldn't have to look that far. Right now there's no one with that title. Jacquez did it at Florida and did it successfully and he did it his first year at Tampa with success. But it's been a few years. If we had to play tomorrow he'd be the leading guy. I would like to look at Fred Smoot. Champ can do it, there's no question. He's proven that at Georgia. It will also depend on what happens with the defense. Beyond that we're looking at Cliff Russell and of course Kevin Lockett has done it. We'll look at Justin Skaggs. Jimmy Watkins did it at Appalachian State and we'll look at Emmett Johnson. But the three guys--Jacquez, Fred and Champ--are the primary options.

Q: What qualities do you want in a returner?

A: He has to be a sure-handed guy. The next thing we have to find out is his decision-making process because so much of that determines field position. And once he's caught and secured the ball we want him to make a first down. That's our goal every time, to make a first down. But more than anything else he has to secure the ball and let the offense go from there.

Q: Fred and Champ haven't done this in the NFL. Is camp enough time to tell what they can do?

A: Preason games will give us that, perhaps. Then again their time on the field will be limited to the first quarter because they're both starters so it depends on how much leeway the coaches give us in terms of looking at them beyond the first quarter in punt return situations. If our defense is stout enough in the first quarter we might get a couple of opportunities for punt returns. We'll give Fred one and Champ another and see how that goes. That first preseason game in Osaka, neither one will get a chance. We'll look at Cliff Russell or Jimmy Watkins. From the Carolina game on, that will give us a better opportunity to see what those guys can do.

Q: With Champ, there seems to be an instinct about him. Do you see something special in these guys?

A: There's no doubt about that. But what's involved with that is playing time. Let's say we just got done with third down, knocking a pass down or going the distance to cover a guy and we stop them and now it's fourth down and he has to go back there. Then he has to make a good decision, regroup and catch the ball and secure it and go from there. These guys are young enough and well conditioned enough that given the opportunity they can help our team.

Q: What qualities do you see in them?

A: First and foremost they have no fear. Then it's a matter of catching the ball and securing it. Both understand it. And the instincts, the change of direction, the quick explosive first step to avoid the first tackler and make the second one miss and then the ability to go North-South with the ball.

Q: Can you get away with rotating guys or will that mess up the rhythm?

A: You want to get a rhythm and have a specific guy do it. That makes that guy more comfortable with the decisions he has to make. Then he has a chance to catch all the balls all over the field so he knows what he has to do with each kick that comes his way. The more they do it, the more comfortable they are with it.

John Keim has covered the Redskins for eight years and also writes for The Journal Newspapers.


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