Redskins special teams coordinator Keith Burns addresses struggles

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Local reporters wanted Redskins special teams coordinator Keith Burns’ view on his struggling unit after it has allowed a touchdown three weeks in a row. We caught up with him on Monday afternoon at Redskins Park. 

Last week, several veterans wondered if everyone was buying into Burns’ teachings. It’s understandable if that process takes time given most came up hearing the voice of longtime special teams coach Danny Smith, who took the same position in Pittsburgh in the offseason.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with buying in,” Burns said. “Everything was new to them. It’s no different than if you put in a new offense, you put in a new defense. It’s going to be new to everybody. So that has nothing to do with it, the scheme itself.”

Burns and head coach Mike Shanahan insisted their team gave a better effort on Sunday in a 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears despite the 81-yard punt return by Devin Hester. In fairness, Hester is one of the NFL’s all-time greats with 19 special teams touchdowns in his career. And the play was well blocked and well executed by Chicago.

It didn’t help that both Paul and Reed Doughty tripped over fallen Bears special teamer Joe Anderson as they tried to run with Hester to the far side of the field. They both went down, he turned the corner at full speed and had a wall of blockers down the right sideline. Give Hester his due. Results are all that matter, though. And when they don’t come through players naturally start to question the process.

“Yes, I understand it from a player’s perspective because when you’re so used to being in one system for so many years, that’s part of it,” Burns said. “But what I bring to the table, I’ve played in five different special teams systems, I’ve coached in three different special teams systems. I’ve always taken a little part from each.”

For his part, Paul actually echoed Burns’ take that there was better effort on special teams overall. The mistakes continue, though. Punt returner Josh Morgan allowed a ball to hit at the 11 and roll to the 1. That put Washington’s offense in a terrible spot early in the first quarter. Yes, it was an excellent punt by Adam Podlesh. The ball went about 55 yards in the air. But it almost cost the Redskins two points when fullback Darrel Young was smashed at the line of scrimmage two plays later and almost tackled for a safety.

Morgan didn’t have many opportunities to return either punts or kicks on Sunday. Chicago kicker Robbie Gould had touchbacks on his first three kickoffs. On the fourth, Morgan caught the ball at the 4 and raced up to the 21 before losing the football. It was a huge break for Washington that Paul was there to pounce on it. But how would that special teams day be viewed if Chicago recovers there? Or, for that matter, if the Bears hadn’t been offside on the onside kick they recovered in the fourth quarter? 

“No, it can’t happen. We talk about ball security all the time,” Burns said of Morgan’s fumble. “Any time you have the ball in your hand whether you’re a punt returner or a kick returner you have the whole organization in your hands. So therefore you have to, at the end of the day, the end of the play, come up with the ball and hand it to the offense.”

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