The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.
Tress Way was entering the 2018 season when he sat down with former Washington Football Team special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica. It was a long conversation that culminated when Kotwica told the 28-year-old punter that his production was not matching his talent.
"I really feel like you have more to show, and I want to encourage you to do that," Kotwica told Way.
So Way set out to do exactly that during the 2018 season, and it seems to have worked. He's had just six touchbacks in the past three seasons, averaged 47.8 yards per punt and landed 42.6% of his punts inside the 20-yard line. All four of his Special Teams Player of the Week awards have come in this span, and he even capped off the 2019 season with his first career Pro Bowl appearance.
"It takes a little pressure off you in terms of decision making," Rivera said Monday. "But the beauty of a guy who can flip the field, can eliminate the possibility of a return, a big return -- that's impactful."
Way had one of his best seasons in 2019 by averaging 49.6 yards per punt. Nearly 38% of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line and just four were ruled a touchback. His punts accounted for 3,919 yards, which stands as the best in his career.
Way's 2020 stats are not quite as good, but they are very close. He's had 60 punts for 2,907 yards and just two touchbacks. About 36% of those have landed inside the 20, and he averages 48.5 yards per punt.
Over the past four weeks, few punters have been better than Way. He's been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice in that span; the first came after he recorded five punts -- three of which were inside the 20-yard line -- against the Cincinnati Bengals, while the second came after he punted the ball eight times for 398 yards against the San Francisco 49ers. One of those punts pinned the 49ers at its own 8-yard line.
Way was even credited with a tackle against the 49ers, but he didn't brag too much about it. All he did, he said, was "hold on for dear life on this dude's leg."
"The next morning, my neck hurt, my back hurt, the side of my foot hurt. I usually don't get sore after games, so...my respect level went up even higher for these [cover] guys for the work they put in for me and the beating that they sometimes take shedding blocks and getting down there and making tackles."
Way also praised his teammates on the punt team for the way they have played this season. Many people simply see him deliver a booming punt that normally ends with a fair catch, but that doesn't account for the work his teammates put in to ensure Way's punt is not returnable.
"The things you guys don't see are the times I don't hit my directions or the time I don't quite match up my hang time and my distance and leave [the ball] in the middle of the field or mishit it to the wrong side," Way said. "And these guys...are so well-coached by [assistant special teams coach Ben Jacobs] and [special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor]. Their effort and how excited they get for me after these punts and we celebrate together, that is something I'm very thankful for."
Whether Way has a good cover group or not, it's clear he has grown into one of the best punters in the past three seasons. So vote Way to his second Pro Bowl, because he's still deserving of the honor.
The Washington Football team held practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Dec. 16, 2020. (Photos courtesy of Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team and Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
-- The last four weeks don't mean anything for Sunday: Washington has been riding high because of its four-game winning streak, and that has vaulted it into the national spotlight as well as given the players some confidence heading into the final three games of the season. The team will try to get its fifth consecutive win, which has not happened since 2012, against the Seattle Seahawks, but Rivera wants the team to remain focused on the game itself and not on the attention it is receiving, saying that "what we did the last four weeks or whatever doesn't mean anything this coming Sunday."
"We've been emphasizing that. I emphasized that before we started practice. We'll continue to because, again, they did a pretty cool thing. If you go back and look at it, this stretch was a stretch a lot of people didn't think we had much of a chance. Low and behold, we've won three of four of them so far. We've won four in a row. We've won three of them on the road, and that's pretty cool. Having said that, it doesn't mean anything going into Sunday's game."
-- Scott Turner has seen growth from Dwayne Haskins: It's been about two months since Dwayne Haskins Jr. was relieved of his duties as the starting quarterback, and the second-year signal caller has spent his days preparing himself for whenever his number would be called again. That time came against the 49ers when Alex Smith left the game with a calf injury, and it may happen again if Smith cannot play against the Seahawks. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has noticed Haskins' effort, particularly when he shadows Smith's movements in practice.
"Alex is somebody that he looks up to. I think he really took that to heart when he looked at the type of career Alex has had. He said: 'Hey, this is the way to do it.' That's where he's made the most strides, and it's something that people don't see getting ready for a game. Put yourself in a situation where, if you do get the opportunity to play, then you're ready to make the most of it. I think it'll pay off if needed."
-- Chase Young has "crazy unusual" leadership skills: It is rare for a rookie to emerge as a leader on an NFL team, but that is what's happening with Chase Young. He leads pregame huddles and gives motivational words to his teammates. Rivera said Young has an energy around him that his teammates feed off of, and Smith said it is "crazy unusual" for a rookie to have that kind of leadership.
"I think Chase is so comfortable in his own skin and being who he is," Smith said. "I think guys respect that, but it's rare to have a guy that young step in and really affect his teammates as positively as he has. He's definitely unique. I've never seen a guy roam the sidelines like he does as we're on offense. How engaged he is, how honest he is and sincere and how much he cares about his teammates, how much he loves competition. It's very, very rare. He continues to have a big impact beyond his play on this team. I do think that is special for a young guy. I think that says a lot certainly about who he is as a person."
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