- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. [-] There are punt and kick returners to select, cover and protection units to rebuild and maybe a new long snapper to choose. Essentially, it's just another training camp for Washington Redskins special teams.
Special teams coach Mike Stock dramatically improved the beleaguered unit last season from among the NFL's worst in 2000 to the middle of the league overall and tops in kickoff coverage. Many of the coverage units' leading players [-] Eddie Mason, Derrius Thompson, Bryan Johnson, Zeron Flemister and Ifeanyi Ohalete [-] return, but Stock awaits the final roster on Sept.[1 before knowing who will fill gaps.
"I don't have much to say about who's on the teams," he said. "The offense and defense chooses and whoever's there we use to fit the puzzle."
Special teams captain Mason tempered younger teammates' enthusiasm after the 38-7 win over San Francisco last weekend when the 49ers averaged 18 yards on kickoffs and one 8-yard punt return.
"We want to play with a nasty attitude and play smart. Special teams isn't just running down with reckless abandon like a banshee," Mason said. "It should be another big year if we don't get complacent."
Receiver Jacquez Green is the front-runner among four possible punt returners while receiver Justin Skaggs and running back Kenny Watson are vying for kick returner with another challenger possible. Replacing kick returner Michael Bates [-] a salary cap victim [-] is problematic on coverages where he was among the top hitters.
Green's experience gives him an edge over cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot for punt returner, though the agility of the younger players could make them standouts. Green averaged 15.1 yards as a rookie in 1998 and had a 95-yard touchdown return for Tampa Bay, but 8.9 yards when he became a starting receiver in 1999. He said punt returning is much like receiving because both feature creating yardage after the initial contact.
"You can turn someone into a kick returner, but a punt returner you have to have the mental discipline to catch the ball," Green said. "You have to depend on people per se, but you really have to make it on your own."Green returned the opening punt 17 yards against San Francisco before declaring two fair catches.
"The pressure was on, he made the right decision, made the guy miss and had room up the left side," Stock said. "But Champ has great ability and so does Smoot."
Skaggs and Watson are both on the bubble for making the roster. That could leave receiver Darnerien McCants as a possible kick returner. Coaches like McCants' shorter stride, which provides agility.
Long snapper Ethan Albright is favored to fend off seventh-round pick Jeff Grau, whom the Redskins drafted thinking Albright might be a salary cap casualty. The two alternated snaps against San Francisco without error. Whether Grau can snap effectively in the pros [-] college players can't be hit during the snap [-] may decide whether he remains.
Jackson four?
Defensive end Ladairis Jackson's four sacks against San Francisco in Osaka were his single-game most since high school.
"Nothing wrong with being an international star," he said jokingly. "I don't know what the coaches see, but I'm using my speed."
Jackson could remain as a backup end after an impressive training camp. The former junior college and Oregon State end was released by Seattle during preseason last year as a rookie free agent.
Extra pointsChamp Bailey expects to play against Pittsburgh Aug. 18 after suffering a dislocated left pinky Wednesday. Bailey needed a surgical cleaning procedure, but the tendon wasn't affected. Cornerback Darrell Green will start against Carolina tomorrow. Japanese receiver Akihito Amaya returned to Tokyo to accept a job offer. The team was given a roster exemption during the preseason for him. The team shortened the afternoon workout to a one-hour special teams session.

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