Last August, Derrick Frost was locked in a battle to keep his job as the Washington Redskins' punter. Shaun Suisham was mere training camp fodder for newly acquired Dallas Cowboys kicker Mike Vanderjagt.
Today, the NFC's Pro Bowl kicker, Chicago's Robbie Gould, and punter, Dallas' Mat McBriar have competition in camp, but Washington's unheralded Frost and Suisham don't. The even less experienced kicker/punter Tyler Frederickson was cut last week.
"I fully expected to be the guy and I fully expected them to have confidence in me," said the 26-year-old Frost, who had the best of his three NFL seasons in 2006 with averages of 42.9 yards (gross) and 36.7 net after keeping his job with a monster final preseason game. "That's something that I earned last year. [The preseason finale] showed the coaches the resolve that I have. I was struggling and I really responded when they turned the pressure up on me."
Frost, who boomed a couple of punts longer than 60 yards after one weak effort in last Saturday's scrimmage at Baltimore, said he's well ahead of where he was this time last year.
"I'm punting the ball really well, but I don't want to be in midseason form next week," Frost said. "I want to build up to the season."
That's definitely also the case for the 25-year-old Suisham, who had spent time with Pittsburgh and Dallas — making four of six field goal attempts for the Cowboys — before signing with Washington last Nov. 28. Suisham made nine of 11 field goal tries for the Redskins, including a 52-yarder that forced overtime in St. Louis.
"I'm never competing against anyone else in my own mind," said Suisham, who celebrated finding a professional home by getting married in February. "I just need to take care of my business and then the coaches can make their decision based on that. My leg's feeling great. I love taking all the kicks. I like being the guy here."
While special teams coach Danny Smith said that both his relatively unproven specialists can improve, they've earned his trust.
"We've made great strides," said Smith, who used four kickers and three punters in his first 17 games with Washington. "Shaun came in and did a good job, but he has to be productive in games again this year. He looks better. He looks stronger. I have a lot of confidence in Derrick. He's a good technician, a tireless worker. I expect him to have a good year. You stick with guys who have shown some guts."
Frost called Suisham "a gamer" because he kicks better when it counts than he does in practice, but Smith doesn't buy that.
"I don't believe there are gamers," Smith snapped. "If you don't produce on the practice field, you won't get into a game."
The coach and punter do agree on limiting his practice work.
"I typically kicked way too many balls," Frost said. "That hurt me big-time me my first year in Cleveland . The first eight weeks I was one of the top punters in the league. The last eight weeks, I was definitely the worst. I kicked all year round. I had a tired leg. I had an injury to my knee and things just fell apart. That's something that Danny really worried about when he signed me here. He's been on me to avoid that happening again and I've finished strong both years here."
Suisham, meanwhile, still suffers from trying to kick too hard.
"You don't have to kick every ball through the end zone," he explained in the wake of doing that on his first scrimmage kickoff before shanking the next one out of bounds. "I hit a real good ball and the next one I wanted to kick through the uprights. You have to be more of a pro, just hit a real good ball and make sure everything's smooth."
If Suisham and Frost stay smooth, even the frenetic Smith should be able to relax a little.
"Shaun and Derrick are quite capable of being good players," Smith said. "It's up to them to be productive and prove that point game in and game out. Both of these guys could be here for a long time. I would rather be breaking down the next opponent on Tuesdays rather than being out here working guys out."