Early in training camp, Chris Thompson was just a rookie who last returned punts as a senior in high school and was recovering from ACL surgery. When he was healthy enough to finally participate in drills, he worked into the rotation on punt returns and tried to glean tips from Richard Crawford and later veterans Santana Moss and DeAngelo Hall.
“Once it was clear that I would be doing this those doubts went away,” Thompson said of his early hesitation about jumping into that role. “But before I was still thinking about it a lot because it was kind of new to me. Even as I missed practice for a while that week after training camp [started]. Now I feel real comfortable back there.”
Thompson’s 69-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay in the preseason finale suggested he was ready for the job vacated when Crawford tore knee ligaments the week before. Since then Thompson and coach Mike Shanahan estimated he has taken two punt returns to everyone else’s one during practice.
Thompson had plans to stay late this week for extra work from the JUGS machine and punter Sav Rocca. Those repetitions are crucial given his inexperience. But he also understands things change on the bright lights of Monday Night Football when the Redskins open Sept. 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field.
“My first college game [at Florida State] was a Monday night game also,” Thompson said. “But as much as I tried to prepare for that, once I stepped out there under those lights it was really different.”
For his part, Shanahan was again circumspect during his media session with reporters on Thursday. Thompson looks like the guy. But Moss and Hall are there, too, if needed.
“Like I said, I’m going to evaluate this week,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got three guys catching them every day. Chris is getting probably double the opportunities because he hasn’t done it for a while. So we’ll see how he does this wee and get a gut feel before the Monday night game and then make a decision.”