Brandon Banks spent part of his bye week in the film room with Danny Smith because something is not right.
The Washington Redskins' return specialist has not been the explosive player he showed flashes of being in the past. Banks says he's carrying a right hip injury that likely will require surgery in the offseason – but that's not the whole problem.
He and Smith, Washington's special teams coach, recently analyzed game film and came to important conclusions they hope will help spark the Redskins' lagging return game, beginning with Sunday's home game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"A lot of them I missed some cuts," Banks said of the numerous failed returns he and Smith dissected. "I just need to take more chances, I think, in cutting back instead of just running to the side I'm supposed to run it to and getting out of bounds. I need to cut and do some more of what I do best."
Banks returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown against Chicago in the second preseason game back in August. That provided a necessary reminder of why the Redskins count on him to return kicks, considering he did not score on a punt or kickoff return in 2011.
Through nine games, though, Banks' drought continues. The Redskins rank 29th and 19th, in punt and kickoff return average, respectively, in the NFL this season. Washington is one of 10 teams that has not scored a special teams return touchdown since the start of last season.
Banks is averaging only 6.2 yards per punt return, which ranks 24th in the league. Improved vision and better reads of cutback lanes are the keys to increasing his effectiveness, he said this week.
"When you want to get better vision, your mindset is going to be better alert for a cutback lane," Banks said. "You're just going to be more alert to doing it. That's what I'm kind of working at."
Special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, meanwhile, insisted Banks' struggles result from breakdowns throughout the blocking units.
"A lot of it staying on our blocks and being able to create some room for him – obviously, he's a space player – and being able to open up some gaps that we haven't really been able to do the whole time," Alexander said. "He has the speed to set up blocks, as well. A little bit more misdirection, then hitting it. I think it's combined."
For Banks, though, it all comes back to his vision. That's what he and Smith determined after watching video of games.
"You have tunnel vision," Banks said. "You're looking one way and you're just going that way. You're looking instead of looking around while you're running and cutting. I just had tunnel vision. I was just trying to get what I can get and get down, get out of bounds. I want to not have tunnel vision and be able to make some more cuts and try to make a play."
Banks also acknowledged his injured hip has quelled his explosiveness. He was hurt when tackled on a kickoff return against Cincinnati on Sept. 23.
"I had a tear in my hip," said Banks, who provided no other details. Coach Mike Shanahan also provided no other details, but he noted it's common for players to play through injuries only to have surgery on them after the season.
The injury limited Banks' participation in practice in the two ensuing weeks, but he has not missed a game. The injury is one reason why he hasn't been featured often in the triple option.
Following the bye week, Banks said he feels as healthy as he has since suffering the injury. He's hoping reduced pain and improved vision leads to some big returns.
"If I get one – what's the saying? – when it rains it pours," Banks said. "That's what I'm trying to do."
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