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Special Teams Gets First Test Against Houston Texans

Posted Sep 3, 2014

The Washington Redskins' special teams unit has worked hard all offseason to ensure they return to form in 2014. Sunday marks the first litmus test against the Houston Texans.

After months of revamping the culture that put playing special teams in high demand, Washington Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica is ready for his unit to showcase the work they’ve put in on Sunday against the Houston Texans.

“What I really like is the work that the guys have put in all the way back to OTA’s and minicamp,” Kotwica said on Wednesday. “The effort’s been there. I think they’ve bought in to what we’re telling them. There’s been a bit of a culture change, I believe, for the positive.

“We’ve got guys that are interested in accomplishing a goal, and that’s always exciting this time of year.”

Tight ends Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul are two players that experienced the special teams struggles last season with the Redskins, and are two veteran players who have made a concerted effort in leading the change in that unit's mindset this year.

They’ve also noticed how different the unit already looks this season.

“The coaches have done a great job putting us in good positions to be successful, and I think they’ve done a good job of increasing the standard of what we need to be doing here,” Paulsen said. “That’s the most important thing that Coach Kotwica’s done is setting the standard very high, which forces us to go out there and reach it.”

Paul echoed his teammate’s sentiment, saying that it’s “been amazing” to see the emphasis on sound special teams play.

“It’s important that we have all guys out there that want to be out there,” he said. “You want to feed off each other and you want to make plays.

“Special teams are a very important part of the game and just to have a special emphasis on it this year with veterans like Duke Ihenacho and Adam Heyward and Akeem Jordan and Darrel Young, always feeding off each other -- I think we are in for a big year on special teams.“

The first test in seeing how far the unit has progressed will come Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Keshawn Martin is listed as the Texans’ No. 1 kick and punt returner on their unofficial depth chart. In two seasons, the third-year player has five kickoff returns and four punt returns of 40 yards or longer.

In 2012, he took a punt back 87 yards for his first-career touchdown.  

Whether it's Martin or another Texan lined up deep, Paul said the unit needs to work together to ensure they don’t allow any long returns on Sunday.

“We need guys playing off each other,” he said “You know, me playing off T-Rob [Trenton Robinson], Adam [Hayward] playing off [Bashaud] Breeland, or DY [Darrel Young] playing off Breeland, just playing off guys and being able to know where they are going to be at is important. 

“When you have one person that is not meshing with the group, the result is a terrible special teams unit.”

Punting With Way
One of the more surprising moves from last week's roster cuts was the team electing to keep Tress Way as its lone punter after being on the roster for only two preseason games.

Kotwica said he’s been impressed with the sample the former Oklahoma Sooner has provided, however.

“I’ve been very impressed with what Tress has done,” he said. “His ball striking consistency has been solid in the short time that he’s been here.”

Way, unlike the other punters who were in for training camp and preseason, is left-footed. Kotwica acknowledged that, at times, it can play to the Redskins’ advantage.

“Obviously, the spin on the ball is a little bit different,” he said. “We actually have to work with our punter returners because we don’t see a lot of left footed guys. So that’s why we just came off the field working the jugs machine working with a right-footed spin, so it is a little bit different. ... But if he’s able to hit the ball with the direction and the hang time that he’s doing in practice, he’ll be just fine.”

Kotwica believes with more time with the coaching staff, Way will continue to punt effectively.

“He’s working hard, he’s accepted his coaching, and any tips that you give him he applies it,” Kotwica said. “I think arrow’s point up for Tress.”

Return Situation
While he didn’t give away details, Kotwica said that the Redskins have a return rotation in mind, but that Andre Roberts – listed as the team’s top kick and punt returner on the depth chart – has be “very conscience” when out deep.

“He’s been in every meeting asking questions of the finer details of what we’re looking for whether it’s in the punt return or kickoff return game,” Kotwica said. “And [he’s done] a good job of handling the ball.”

While Roberts didn’t record a single kick or punt return during the 2013 season, Kotwica has seen no ill effects from his time away from returning.

“We tried to do a couple different things, a couple different drills to make the practice harder than the game will be,” he said. “He’s adjusted very, very well and he’s caught the ball here in preseason and in practice, so that’s been good for him.”

Also listed as returners on the Redskins' unofficial depth chart this week are wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Santana Moss and rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

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