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Redskins Special Teams Turning The Corner

Posted Oct 29, 2013

After three straight games of struggles, the Washington Redskins special teams turned the corner on Sunday, containing top-flight returner Trindon Holliday.

After consecutive weeks of giving up game-changing punt returns for touchdowns, the Washington Redskins special teams unit neutralized lethal Denver Broncos returner Trindon Holliday on Sunday, allowing him only one punt return for 10 yards and one kickoff return for 30.

With a mix of superb punting from veteran Sav Rocca who used the sideline to his benefit and a coverage team who swarmed when the ball was in play, special teams made sure that a punt return for touchdown for a third straight week was not going to happen.

“You saw some great effort. I thought we made some strides the week before even though we had the one big punt return by [Chicago Bears returner Devin] Hester,” head coach Mike Shanahan said afterward. “But going into this game, I thought Denver was one of the top teams in the National Football League both in punt and kickoff returns.

“I liked our guys, I liked our energy, I liked our effort and we’ll keep on building on that.”

Holliday was drafted by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Despite measuring just 5-5, Holliday’s background in track, especially the 100-meter dash, made him an intriguing return prospect at the NFL level.

However, after appearing in only one game in 2011 and struggling to provide Houston with quality field position in five games in 2012, he was waived and subsequently picked up by the Broncos.

Then he started making a name for himself, entering the pantheon of return legends like Brian Mitchell.   

In only his third game, he returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in franchise history.

Against the Baltimore Ravens in a two overtime playoff thriller, he returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and then returned the opening kickoff of the second half 104 yards for a touchdown.

Nineteen games, six touchdown returns.

However, with a gameplan built around preventing him from being a factor, Holliday’s production was nipped by Rocca’s best outing of the season.

“That was the plan to take him out of the game,” Rocca said. “Hit the sidelines or close to and if not the sidelines then make sure that we have enough hang on the ball. It was good that we took him out of the game.”

Holliday’s lone punt return came in the fourth quarter that brought the Broncos to their own 20-yard line.

Even then the Redskins didn’t allow him any breathing room.

“We didn’t really give them a lot of opportunities but when we did we were pretty solid,” veteran Niles Paul said. “When you’re facing a returner like Trindon Holliday that’s what you’ve got to do. Just take him out of the game.”

Credit goes to a week of preparation both on the field and in the film room.

“We just are in the film room and every practice, every rep we go hard,” Trenton Robinson said after his second game with the team. “On film if there is something on there that coach sees to fix or something he tells us. Guys are working really hard and know what happened earlier in the season and don’t want that to happen again.”

The one error from the special teams unit came in the fourth quarter when Rocca shanked a punt off the side of his foot. Instead of a 50-, 60-yard punt like his previous attempts, his kick went only 15 yards.

Rocca said he might have focusing too much of getting the ball to the sideline and misstepped his normal routine.

“I tried to pin it to the sidelines and it was a kick that I should have made, I overstrode a little bit on the last step and therefore drop the ball outside. Those things happen but we’ll try to minimalize them in the future.”

Heeding special teams coordinator Keith Burn’s advice, Robinson said that through the growing pains the unit is going to continue to improve.

Sunday was a start.

“I think we did a good job on special teams,” Robinson said. “Every week it’s going to continue to get better and we’re growing as a unit and we’re trying to go out there and dominate every time we get out there.”

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