With starting receiver and primary kickoff returner already among his duties during a busy second season with the Washington Redskins, Devin Thomas may add a third role Monday against the New York Giants: punt returner.
The continued struggles of Antwaan Randle El have forced coach Jim Zorn to consider putting Thomas into a rotation that includes Randle El, Santana Moss and possibly DeAngelo Hall.
Randle El made two mistakes on punts in Sunday’s win over Oakland, letting a kick get by him for an 18-yard roll and fumbling away a fourth-quarter punt.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that quite yet,” Zorn said. “I do know that I have to back [Randle El] off a little bit just from the standpoint of getting him to regroup because you get more and more tense if you have to make those kinds of critical plays [after] you have a little bit of a setback like that. He’s not out of the [equation].”
The Redskins rank last in punt return average (3.6 yards), and Randle El has a 3.9-yard average and more fair catches (18) than returns (15).
“I’m just surprised it’s turned out the way it has with Antwaan because I really do trust him in there,” Zorn said. “I think he was more frustrated he couldn’t get to the ball that hit the ground again, and the fumbled punt return was just something he’s going to see and kick himself for.”
Randle El has handled the majority of punt returns since coming to the Redskins in 2006, but Moss spelled him for 13 returns the last two years. Hall joined the rotation in Week 7 but has missed the last three games with a knee injury.
Thomas has no punt returns with the Redskins and returned only eight punts for 35 yards in two years at Michigan State. He assumed the Redskins’ kickoff return role when Rock Cartwright was thrust into the running back rotation after Clinton Portis’ injury. Thomas has averaged 23.6 yards on 18 returns with a long of 39 yards, enough production that he kept the job even though Cartwright has been demoted to No. 2 running back.
Zorn sounded wary of putting Thomas on punt returns in key situations, citing the difference between catching kickoffs and punts and his increased work load on offense.
“I could give him one,” Zorn said. “The big thing is a matter of trust. Catching a punt versus catching a kickoff is a little bit different. The decision-making on minus-10-yard line, on a fair catch [or] sure catch, he hasn’t had to make those yet. We’re getting there with him.”
Orakpo nears record
With his four sacks against Oakland, Brian Orakpo raised his total to 11 and put himself in position to break Jevon Kearse’s rookie record of 14.5 with a strong finish.
“That’s one thing about me. I don’t really aim for anything - I just go out there and play,” Orakpo said. “If it happens, it would be a huge honor, but that’s not my No. 1 goal.”
Orakpo and Andre Carter lead the Redskins with 11 sacks each, the first duo to reach double figures since Dexter Manley (18.5) and Charles Mann (10) in 1986.