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Washington Redskins cornerback Richard Crawford last year was coming off a successful rookie season in which his clutch playmaking ability helped the team win two crucial late season games and earn a playoff spot.
Needing a victory over the Baltimore Ravens to keep their hopes of winning the NFC East alive, Crawford returned a Sam Koch punt 64 yards to setup a Kai Forbath game-winning field goal.
Then, in Week 17 with the division on the line at FedExField vs. Dallas, Crawford intercepted quarterback Tony Romo on the third Cowboys play of their first series. The play set the tone for what would become a rugged defensive performance across the board, as the Redskins forced three turnovers in a 28-18 victory.
Showing development throughout training camp last year, his on-field growth came to a sudden halt on Aug. 24 when he suffered a torn ACL and LCL on a punt return.
The injury left him wondering if he could ever walk the same again, let alone play football.
"When I got to the sideline I fell back on the ground," Crawford recalled. "The only thing that was going through my mind was "Man, I aint never been hurt before. What's going to happen?' That's all I was thinking about was will I be able to play again."
While the former SMU star has looked quick on the field, his return started with getting his legs underneath him first, before even running.
"Walking, running, running fast again," Crawford said of progressing through his rehab. "Putting that all together to play football and the last part is going to come with more and more reps, which is explosion and my timing playing football again and all that other stuff.
"That last part is coming it's not fully there yet, but it's coming and I'm happy about that."
Crawford said he aspires to be the same type playmaker he showed he could be late in 2012.
"Just interceptions, punt returns and creating turnovers," the cornerback said when asked of what he wants to accomplish from an individual standpoint in 2014. "That's what I did when I was here – be a playmaker and create havoc and problems for the offense.
"Then on special teams make tackles, be a good returner and create turnovers on special teams also. That's also a big aspect of my game is playing special teams. I know that so that's also what I plan to do."
Crawford's plans have caught the attention of new head coach Jay Gruden who said he's been "impressed" with the 5-foot-11 cornerback's return.
"He looks like he's running around good," Gruden said recently. "[Head trainer] Larry [Hess] and those guys have done a great job with him and Richard has been very diligent as far as his rehab is concerned. You can see he's ready to go and we made that point with Jason Hatcher and these other guys – we're not going to let these guys come back on the field after an injury unless they're 100 percent. And you can see that Crawford is 100 percent and he's doing some good things."
A physical player who is aggressive on special teams, Crawford's mentality meshes well with new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica's grind-'em-out style of coaching.
The relationship is one that Crawford sees having the potential for success.
"I'm just kind of getting used to his scheme, but it fits me you know going up the middle making guys miss so me and Ben have been getting along really well," he said. "Coach Kotwica has been really good for this team, there's no way guys will be where they were last year on special teams, I can promise that much."