Buried deep inside an old abandoned warehouse in the District — high on a shelf, next to the crate that holds the Ark of the Covenant — was a dusty book with a green cover that holds all the secrets for success for the Washington Redskins.
It was a forgotten, obscure tome, written by one of the gods of this franchise, a football old testament. But it may be what saves the season for the Redskins.
It is called “George Allen’s Guide to Special Teams.”
The former Redskins coach raised the profile and importance of special teams to a new level — he was the first one to have a special teams coach, Dick Vermeil, when Allen was with the Rams, and introduced special teams before a game on national television while he was here in Washington. He wrote a little-known book about how to coach special teams, and if anyone could use the words of wisdom of George Allen — who coached in Washington from 1971 to 1977 and took the Redskins to a Super Bowl — it is Mike Shanahan and his Redskins squad.
The Redskins‘ special teams have gotten special attention this season because they have been especially bad. They gave up 222 yards in returns to Dwayne Harris, who had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return, in their 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And on the punt return, special teams coach Keith Burns was called for interference with an official on the field.
Last week, in the 45-41 win over the Bears, Shanahan said his special teams improved “drastically” — not exactly the choice of words he might have wanted. They gave up another special teams touchdown — the third one in three weeks — on an 81-yard punt return by Devin Hester, and return man Josh Morgan fumbled a kickoff that the Redskins fortunately recovered. And when Morgan didn’t fumble he made bad decisions fielding the ball.
It would seem like “drastic” measures are needed — a better use of the word, especially when facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Part of the problem may be Burns, who replaced Danny Smith, who was good enough to coach special teams here under three different head coaches. Speculation is that Burns and his special teams players are not on the same page.
“I understand it from a players’ perspective, because when you’re so used to being in one system for so many years, it’s part of it,” Burns told reporters. “I’ve played in five different special teams systems. I’ve coached in three different special teams systems, so I’ve always taken a little part from each and I’m bringing it here to Washington.”
“One out of every five plays in a football game is a special teams play,” Allen wrote. “Unlike plays on offense and defense, something very unusual occurs on every kicking what kicking play. Either there is a change of possession or sizable amount of yardages involved or there is a specific attempt to score points.
“Sometimes two or even all three of these things happen on the same play,” he wrote. “It is easy to see that special teams can and most often do affect the tide and outcome of any game. A head coach should constantly be aware that the opportunity for the big play — the momentum changer — is most prevalent in the kicking game
“These big plays or breaks usually happen when a team or player is unprepared for a situation,” Allen wrote. “When a team has been properly prepared it has the chance to capitalize on the break. The ability to take advantage of the kicking game breaks marks the difference between winning and losing many games. When a team takes too little pride in and neglects the attention required to develop a proper kicking game, they become victims of these bad breaks.
“The head coach much sell the importance of the kicking game to his team and his coaching staff,” Allen wrote. “And it is most important that he not just paying lip service to this effort; he must get personally involved by attending and participating in special-teams meetings and practices. … There was never a doubt in the minds of any of my players about my commitment to the kicking game. In fact, I thought the kicking game was so important I fined players $500 for losing their kicking playbook.”
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com