- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Although his coaches remain tight-lipped, Antwaan Randle El expects to return punts for the Washington Redskins against Minnesota in Monday night’s season opener.

Randle El did not field a punt during the preseason, following his customary approach the last few years in Pittsburgh. He has returned 168 punts in four seasons, scoring four touchdowns and averaging 9.5 yards.

The Redskins are looking to improve their punt return game after ranking 28th in the league last year and averaging only 6 yards. Randle El hopes he gets a chance early in the Vikings game so he can begin the quick process of learning to work with his new blockers.

“It won’t take long, especially if you get a couple good punts to return early on,” he said. “But if you get a couple shanked and you don’t get to return one until late in the game, that may hurt things a little bit.”

Thanks to Randle El, the Steelers ranked third in the NFL last year in punt returns.

Randle El isn’t expected to return kickoffs Monday. With running back Clinton Portis’ status unclear, the Redskins probably will take Ladell Betts off kickoff returns and have another player join James Thrash.

Espy thankful for chance

Rookie receiver Mike Espy provided one of the few offensive bright spots in the preseason with 10 catches for 102 yards and one touchdown. But he got caught in the numbers game behind five veterans and was signed to the practice quad.

“It’s bittersweet because everybody wants to play and everybody thinks they’ve earned the chance, but I look at the big picture, which is [the Redskins have] five receivers who are all good,” Espy said. “[The practice squad] is another opportunity, and I’m thankful for it. I still have a chance to move up as the season goes along.”

Espy said it will be an adjustment to keep his practice and work habits even though he won’t be playing in games.

“I think it’ll be difficult because it’s a new experience for me,” he said. “I probably won’t get any reps with the offense and the plays they’re running, but I’ll have to stay game-ready by knowing what they’re running. It will take a lot of discipline.”

Frost remains upbeat

Used to being a week-to-week player in the NFL, punter Derrick Frost made the final cut after averaging 47.2 yards on six punts against Baltimore last week. That performance made up for sub-par games against the Jets and New England likely saved his job.

“I’ve always felt that I’ve been close to being a consistent, long-term player,” he said. “I’m closer than I’ve ever been, and those two games were a setback. But I’m glad it happened because it brought some things to light that I normally don’t focus on.”

Extra work for Campbell

Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said he expects Mark Brunell to take around 95 percent of the practice snaps today when the Redskins begin full-scale preparations for the Vikings. That doesn’t leave much time for Jason Campbell to get work. So on Tuesday, he spent 20 minutes — with Saunders and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor watching — making all of the throws in the game plan.

“The most important thing is that Jason has to approach every day like he’s the starter, and that can be hard for a guy to have that kind of discipline,” Lazor said.

Injury report

The Redskins released their first injury report of the season. Shawn Springs (abdomen) is doubtful, Clinton Portis (shoulder) is questionable and Renaldo Wynn (ankle) is probable.

For the Vikings, Fred Smoot (ribs) and Mewelde Moore (knee) are questionable.

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