- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Punt returner Deion Sanders should promise to give his blockers stopwatches instead of Rolexes, because he hasn't received a split second to bring back any kicks.
Sanders is the NFL's leading punt returner of the 1990s but ranks 27th this season, his first with the Washington Redskins. Sanders' 3.4 yards is less than one-third what he averaged last season and 7 yards less than his career average.
Longtime Redskins returner Brian Mitchell is averaging 13.6 yards for the Philadelphia Eagles. Even former Redskins receiver Leslie Shepherd is averaging 10.6 yards with the Miami Dolphins.
Suddenly, Redskins fans are wondering if Sanders is "Past His Prime Time?" However, coaches and teammates say bad punts and poor blocking are the culprits.
"You think I like getting hit a tenth-second after the ball hits my hands? Instead of what's up with Deion, it's what's up with punt returns?" Sanders said. "You all have cameras. You all see what's going on. I can't do some things you would like me to do. I would love to do them, but it's going to take a little time.
"You can see what's going on. Don't specify Deion is not doing his thing, because if you're going to give me all the blame for not breaking punt returns, I want all the credit when we do break one. And that's not right because I have 10 guys trying to spring me."
Sanders hasn't been untouchable this season. Opposing quarterbacks are testing the player who once was once known for cutting off half the field. Opposing punters are often kicking to him, though nine of 19 kicks weren't returnable. One punt even bounced off Sanders' helmet.
But there hasn't been the pizzazz expected from Sanders, who says he waves to God before he takes a pressure-packed return. The problem with being the best for a decade is that he looks merely mortal when he doesn't deliver highlight plays.
"I set a high standard. If I break a punt, that was OK he should have done it a week ago, two weeks ago," Sanders said. "If I get an interception, that's good he should have done that a few weeks ago. If I break up a pass, that's good."
Coach Norv Turner defended Sanders, saying the blocking schemes haven't set up well.
"We're not doing a great job. We get a return set up and let one man free," Turner said. "He's not getting very good punts. The ball is going all over the place, which makes it hard to set up a return. We've been close a couple times. He just needs a little bit of a crease."
Sanders is fighting criticism for letting receivers beat him, though never for a touchdown. Detroit completed seven passes against Sanders. The New York Giants beat him deep only to have the pass overthrown. After joking that the position should be renamed "The Deion" earlier this season, Sanders is no longer untouchable.
"I am competing against myself. If I give up two or three balls I've lost a step, but if anybody else gives up two or three balls, that was a a good day," he said. "I haven't given up a touchdown this year, but I've lost a few steps. That's OK. That's the high standards I've made. That's being appreciated because you have to compare me to me."
Said Turner: "Half of those plays [against Detroit], he's half a hand from knocking it down. Detroit executed extremely well, but it's not like they hit him for two touchdowns or did something ugly."
Secondary coach Ron Meeks said he's working on Sanders to focus to the end of the play to improve his technique.
"He was a little disappointed in the Detroit game. He's learning where his comfort zone is," Meeks said. "He was at a level that's hard to reach. Being a competitor like he is, when you don't do it at the level you did before, you have a tendency to be hard on yourself. He was hard on himself after the Detroit game and improved."
Not that Sanders has lost confidence. Asked who was the best cornerback he has ever seen, the reply was succinct and predictable:
"Got a mirror?"

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