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Redskins Not Standing Pat On Special Teams


On Sunday, the Washington Redskins were exposed on special teams, giving up 222 return yards to Cowboys returner Dwayne Harris, highlighted by a 90-yard kick return and 86-yard punt return.

On Monday, head coach Mike Shanahan expressed confidence in his special teams unit and coaching, acknowledging the growing pains that come with young players and a change in system.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of different things," he explained. "When you play as a unit, whether it's offense, defense or special teams and they have success, everybody's got to do their job, and if one guy is a little bit off, you look pretty average."

On the long punt return, linebacker Bryan Kehl had Harris lined up at the 20-yard line, but made a cut to his right that tore his ACL. With Kehl down, the rest of the special teams blocks opened up a hole for Harris to escape.

The Redskins were also guilty of missing a field goal after long snapper Nick Sundberg was removed from the game with a torn meniscus.

The game ultimately did not hinge on the kick, but the miss was deflating for an already wounded unit. But Shanahan made no excuses for the team's performance on Monday.

"I think anytime you take a look at a unit, you come together and that's what you do," he said. "[Former special teams ace] Lorenzo Alexander is not going to show up, so somebody has got to take control of those special teams."

The coaching staff has had a rotating special teams captain through the first five games of the season, with no player being tabbed as the permanent leader.

"One guy has got to define himself or two guys have got to define themselves," Shanahan said. "It's us working as a group and it just takes one guy to look pretty average."

Reed Doughty is the elder statesman on the unit and made no excuses for the coverage problems from last Sunday.

"It's embarrassing," he said this morning. "I definitely feel like I'm a very good special teams player and I feel like I've been doing that for a long time, but at the end of the day that's a reflection on me being on the field and us not playing well.

"We can talk about 'Zo (Lorenzo Alexander) all day and 'Zo is a phenomenal special teams player, but it's always a group of guys. 'Zo had a lot of tackles last year but so did a lot of other guys.

On Tuesday, the Redskins made three roster moves designed to replace Kehl and Sundberg, swapping in a third to boost the unit's production overall.

Linebacker Josh Hull (6-3, 246) will take Kehl's spot, and comes over from the St. Louis Rams, where he has played since 2010.

He has appeared in 28 career NFL games with one start in Week 8 last season. He was released by the Rams on Aug. 31, 2013.

"In St. Louis they relied on me to be a core special teams guy, played all four phases," he told the media this morning. "That's exactly what I plan on doing here.

"Coach said this morning in the special teams meeting that they're looking for a couple of guys to step up and be core special teams guys.

"Hopefully I can be that guy. I'm going to work this week in practice and hopefully be that guy that steps up right away and [is] ready to play."

He will be joined by fellow newcomers Kyle Nelson who will replace Sundberg at long snapper and safety Trenton Robinson who will replace Jordan Pugh at safety and special teams.

Nelson (6-2, 240) has spent time with the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks since originally signing with the Saints as a college free agent on July 27, 2011.

He appeared in the Chargers' final six games of the 2012 season as the team's long snapper.

Robinson (5-9, 193) was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round (180th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft.

He has appeared in three career NFL games, all with the 49ers during the first three weeks of the 2012 season.

The Redskins have shown no fear in making changes on special teams, benching starting returner Chris Thompson for veterans Joshua Morgan and Niles Paul. After last week's struggles, more changes are likely in the works.

The expectation is for a quick turnaround, but Shanahan has faith in the man leading the charge, giving a vote of confidence to special teams coordinator Keith Burns.

"I think Keith Burns is a very excellent football coach. Very capable," he said. "It takes a lot of years of work to be put in this position, and I feel very confident that he'll get the job done even though we've started out a little bit rough."

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