- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2016

When Jamison Crowder arrived in Washington in 2015 as a fourth-round draft pick out of Duke, many considered him to be a punt return specialist.

The speedy wide receiver dazzled in the role as a Blue Devil, combining for 681 yards on 47 total punt returns across his junior and senior seasons — an average of 14.4 yards per return — and converted five into touchdowns.

But during Crowder’s rookie season, that type of production stagnated.

Of the 32 total punt returns the Redskins received last season, the 5-foot-8, 23 year old fielded 30. Crowder scored zero touchdowns and averaged just 5.3 yards per return, the worst in the NFL.

“I feel like last year coming in I was kind of hyped into that punt return role,” Crowder said. “I did a pretty good job at Duke, and I really only started doing that once I became a junior. But I always knew that I was a talented receiver. So right now I’m just trying to work hard in all phases of the game and just trying to do what I can to help out the team.”

At training camp Wednesday, he and the Redskins had the opportunity to work on the trouble spot extensively during an hour-long special teams practice.

As a punt returner, Crowder said his main goal this year is to become more “explosive,” and convert his carries into bigger gains.

“I want to get touchdowns, obviously, and that’s always easier when you can have explosiveness in that phase of the game” Crowder said. “Those are game-changing plays.”

Coach Jay Gruden said one of the biggest points of emphasis for his special teams unit this year will be to get Crowder improved running lanes.

“I think our special teams has shown improvement the last two years and we still have a ways to go especially on punt return,” Gruden said before practice Wednesday. “We’ve got to get [Jamison] Crowder better looks; that’s our number one goal.

“That’s something we’re really working hard on and getting the right people in those positions to hold up the fliers and to protect and block,” he said. “That’s very, very important. So we’re working hard on that getting the right people, and that’s what this training camp’s all about…A lot of those second- and third-teamers will be the better special teams players, quite frankly, so it’s going to be very important for these guys to show up.”

Redskins punter Tress Way launched more than a dozen balls Wednesday, the majority of which were handled by Crowder, who displayed good speed and vision all day.

Wide receiver Rashad Ross—who will likely get the start as Washington’s kickoff returner after a strong showing at the spot last season— running back Chris Thompson and cornerback Will Blackmon also caught a few.

Absent from the bunch was wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the only other player who returned a punt last year. Despite his infamous fumbled return against the Dallas Cowboys last December, Gruden hasn’t ruled him out from backing up Crowder.

“He had a rough one against Dallas last year but it happens to everybody from time to time,” Gruden said. “He’s always a dangerous guy and anytime we can get the ball in his hands, if we feel like it’s necessary, then I won’t hesitate again. If he’s up to it and comes out and practices it, it will be great.”

Crowder said he doesn’t mind sharing the position, and has even received pointers from Blackmon, a veteran who excelled at punt returns earlier in his career. The second-year speedster also agrees with Gruden that his blockers have shown improvement.

It will be a while longer until the group and Crowder are tested in a regular season situation, but from what he saw this week, the expected starting punt returner is hopeful that the team can put last year’s woes behind them.

“The coaches are doing a good job trying to put our guys in position as far as the blocking and just kind of help spring me and hit a few creases and try to score,” Crowder said. “Right now we’re trying to work on it and get everything tuned up. I think we’ll be good.”

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