The Washington Redskins once again face a home run threat in the punt return game, as Darren Sproles is coming off his sixth punt return for touchdown in his career.
They saw him twice last season and they have film on him throughout his years with the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, but the test in stopping Darren Sproles, especially on punt return, is one that still full of difficulties.
The shortest player in the NFL, checking in at 5-foot-6, Sproles uses his size to his advantage, hiding behind blocks before his patience pays off.
Once in open field, he's one of the most difficult guys to take down.
"It's a great challenge," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "You know, I showed all the touchdowns on the film today from last year and this year and it seemed like it took forever. They had a lot of them – punt blocks, punt returns, kickoff returns. Great special teams unit over there. Sproles, as a punt returner, is very dynamic. He's already small in stature, but he's big as far as making people miss, finding lanes."
Sproles was announced as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 3 after taking back a punt 89 yards for a touchdowns last Sunday against the New York Jets.
This isn't the first time the Redskins have faced a lethal threat on special teams and a player coming off a big game in 2015, as they squared off with St. Louis Rams returner Tevin Austin in Week 2 after he gashed the Seattle Seahawks for 85 yards and a punt return touchdown on Opening Day.
Austin, however, was neutralized by Redskins punter Tress Way, as he was held without a single return on six balls the Oklahoma product put into play.
"Tavon's probably got a little bit more long speed, but Darren Sproles has great quickness also," Gruden said. "Another great challenge for us. If the weather is going to be bad, like it might be, it'll be very, very important for us to do good in the punt game and the punt-return game, so it's going to be a great challenge for us."
A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.
While all three Redskins units have been impacted by the early season injury bug, special teams may have been hit the hardest.
Adam Hayward was the team's special teams captain, a vocal leader who thrived in coverage and protection. Niles Paul did just about everything a player could do on special teams. Logan Paulsen was a key cog over the years.
The changes have given younger players more opportunities, but they've also affected the unit's consistency, too.
"We're having a different flyer outside every time," Gruden said. "We're having a different punt protector every week. And those guys need reps like a quarterback needs reps, like an inside linebacker needs reps. We've got to try to get these guys up to par, up to speed as quick as we can because Philadelphia will make you pay. It changes the course of a football game like we learned last week against the [New York] Giants, but we just have to do our job as coaches to get our guys ready and our players have to do their job of getting themselves ready."
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