- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Linebacker Eddie Mason spent hours yesterday studying film of the Washington Redskins' poor kickoff coverage before finally settling on the undercurrent of error.
The Redskins repeatedly made mistakes of recognition Sunday against Carolina's Michael Bates, who sprang two big kickoff returns a 92-yarder for a touchdown and an 87-yarder that was called back for an illegal block. By running the wrong way around Panthers blockers and failing to realize which lanes blockers were setting up to protect, the Redskins left themselves badly out of position.
Washington overcame Bates' efforts, coming away with a 20-17 season-opening victory, but questions about its kickoff coverage abounded at Redskin Park yesterday, one day after Redskins coach Norv Turner called the coverage "horrible."
"The biggest thing I saw watching the film was recognizing the blocking scheme and recognizing the blockers' shoulders [as they set up]," said Mason, a fourth-year veteran. "We've got several younger guys on the kickoff squad, and it's not just running down kamikaze-style. You've got to read the returns."
The job of the Redskins (1-0) gets no easier this week against Detroit (1-0), which boasts Desmond Howard, the talented returner the Redskins drafted fourth overall in 1992. Howard, now 30, returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown last weekend in the Lions' 14-10 victory at New Orleans.
"Desmond is a great player, just like Bates," Mason said. "You have to study him, but you've got to study the scheme that they're running. If we study the scheme and play like we're capable of playing, we'll do well."
Turner again stressed that the Redskins seemed psyched out Sunday by Bates' Pro Bowl past. Turner seemed confident the kickoff coverage will improve.
"It's an area we're going to address," Turner said. "We're going to make personnel changes if [we] need to, and we're going to get 11 guys on that field that will play football relax, react, be aggressive and go tackle the guy with the ball."
Special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel spoke at length with reporters but didn't delve into specifics, such as which players might be replaced. Of course, the release of running back Chad Dukes (to make way for right guard Tre Johnson, who was suspended last week) represents at least one change.
"You practice, you move people around and you keep working hard," McDaniel said. "We're going to be better a lot better."
McDaniel dismissed the short kickoffs of Brett Conway as a source of the problem, saying Conway, who missed most of training camp with a strained quadriceps, gives the Redskins good hang time.
"Hey, he's two weeks from coming back from a pulled thigh," McDaniel said. "That's not an excuse, but he's working to get better."
McDaniel, now in his fourth season, has absorbed much of the blame for Sunday's performance. Another early target has been rookie linebacker LaVar Arrington, who appeared to be responsible for the lane in which both of Bates' returns broke.
Asked about Arrington, McDaniel replied simply: "I'm not going to blame anybody publicly."
Said Arrington: "I did my job. I ran down there. I tried to make a play. I missed the play, but I did what I could do to make the play."
Arrington is an example of how little experience some Redskins special-teamers have. Five of the 10 players on Sunday's kickoff coverage were making their NFL debuts. Arrington, the second overall pick in April's draft, hasn't played on kickoff coverage since his freshman year at Penn State.
"Some of these guys haven't played any special teams," Mason said. "Or if they did in college, it wasn't as sophisticated. Some of the things these pro teams are doing are pretty snazzy."
In that fashion Mason stressed that the Redskins' problems are the type that can be overcome in time particularly because, Mason believes, the team has players who are dedicated to getting better at special teams, which isn't always a given.
Meanwhile, several players spoke in support of the special teams besides kickoff coverage. None of the teams made a spectacular play, and Tommy Barnhardt struggled on his first two punts, but the other teams created several chances in which big plays nearly occurred. Once, for example, punt returner Deion Sanders appeared a broken tackle away from a touchdown.
"[The success of the other teams] is for you all to judge and everybody's judging right now," McDaniel said. "We did some good things. We did some bad things."
It's the bad things that have the Redskins concerned. On Sunday, they'll find out how much their kickoff coverage has improved and whether opponents are now attempting to target it.
"Teams are going look at this film and really have a lot of confidence when they go against us," defensive back David Terrell said. "We have to correct our mistakes and get guys in the right places. I think the coaches are going to take care of that. We're going to address that problem this week."

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