Two things very important to Derrick Frost were hanging in the balance not long ago: the fate of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals and his future as a Redskins punter.
Frost, a St. Louis native, sweated it out as the Cardinals held on for a postseason berth, then charged through the playoffs and captured the World Series crown in five games over Detroit.
His career in Washington, meantime, appeared in doubt during the Redskins' preseason. At times during the first half of the regular season, he was plagued by inconsistency--a problem that dates back to last season.
He seems to have stabilized his hold on the punting position this season, averaging 42.7 yards per kick (36.4 net) through 14 games.
Frost is ranked 26th in the NFL in punting average, so there is room for improvement. Frost turned in a strong punting performance in last Sunday's 16-10 win over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. He logged five punts for a 47.8-yard average, including a long of 54, and three kicks inside the Saints' 20-yard line.
"Our net punting was over 43 yards," head coach Joe Gibbs said after the Saints game. "Derrick did a great job."
Frost returns to his hometown this Sunday as the Redskins take on the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
During a rocky preseason, Frost admitted that his confidence had been sliding. But he said he worked on his kicking mechanics and made good strides with distance.
"The first preseason game, I didn't punt very many times, but I had a really good game," he said. "Then the two games in between, I was kind of like, 'What's going on?' There were things going wrong with my mechanics that I had never really worked on. We pinpointed them, and things worked out for the best."
In the early going of the 2006 season, Frost's best game of the year came in the Redskins' 31-15 win over the Houston on Sept. 24. He punted only twice, but made the most of his kicks. Frost had a 52-yarder in the first quarter and a season-long 60-yarder with no bounce in the second quarter, keeping the Texans from getting good field position.
Afterward, he was awarded a game ball and was named Redskins special teams player of the week.
"I got a game ball," he said. "I'll take that. As a punter, that doesn't happen very often."
The following week in the Redskins' 36-30 overtime win over Jacksonville, Frost placed three punts that forced the Jaguars to start deep in their own territory. But he also shanked a 24-yarder, and he knows it's that type of inconsistency that he must always work on.
"I just kind of lost focus on it--my foot hit the ground," he said of the 24-yard shank. "I lost focus on it. The wind was blowing strong in one direction and pretty much all my punts were into it. It helps on pooch punts but it makes it tougher to get downfield."
He turned in a solid showing in Week 11 at Tampa Bay, in a game the Redskins dropped 20-17. In that outing at Raymond James Stadium, Frost punted five times and averaged 44.0 yards per punt with a long of 55 yards.
Now in his third NFL season, Frost originally signed with the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent prior to the Redskins' third game last season. He played in 14 games, including two playoff contests, and averaged 40.4 yards per punt (36.7 net), with 23 punts inside the 20-yard line. His long punt was 55 yards.
*Michael Richman is a freelance writer who specializes in Redskins history. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.