- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Chad Morton’s football philosophy is simple. If he’s got the ball in his hands, he expects to reach the end zone.

“I’m the type that if we don’t score every time, I get really frustrated,” the Washington Redskins kick returner/third-down running back said. “I know maybe some people think you should just do the best you can, just get the first down, 10 yards. But if you don’t have that mindset of trying to score every time, I don’t think you’re giving it your all. I always want to be 100 percent at whatever I do.”

That attitude makes Morton one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. Dangerous to opposing defenses and sometimes dangerous to his own team.

In the Redskins’ 24-3 preseason victory over Baltimore on Saturday, Morton twice fielded awkwardly bouncing punts deep in his own territory. He managed to hang on to the ball each time, gaining a few yards but leaving his coaches’ hearts fluttering.

Morton, though, insists there is a method to his perceived madness. And after listening to him talk about the art of returning kickoffs and punts, you come to the realization that he truly does know what he’s doing back there.

And that there’s a whole lot more to the craft than simply catching a ball and running full steam upfield.

“You know, I thought it was like that at first — if you just had good quickness and good vision, then you’d be good at it,” said Morton, who is in his fourth season returning kicks in the NFL. “But it’s not even close to that. You have to study like you wouldn’t believe.

“The guy catching it and running, that’s the least of it. You really have to know what the other team does and get on the same page with your guys.”

The Redskins made plenty of significant additions during the offseason, from receiver Laveranues Coles to running back Trung Canidate to safety Matt Bowen. But perhaps the most significant moment of the spring came out of a Washington courthouse April7, when arbitrator Richard Bloch awarded Morton to the Redskins in a ruling that stunned everyone involved.

Morton, as a restricted free agent with the New York Jets, signed a five-year, $8million offer sheet with Washington. The Jets, however, matched the offer and figured they had retained the AFC’s second-leading kickoff returner from 2002.

Bloch thought otherwise. He ruled that New York should have been required to include Washington’s complicated “void” provision, and instead of giving the Jets the chance to add it to their offer, he outright awarded Morton to an ecstatic Redskins organization.

“I was really stressing over it, because I wanted to come here so bad,” Morton said of his four weeks of uncertainty. “Then we were told that the chances were very slim, like maybe a 10 or 20 percent chance that I would end up here. So it just made it more sweet when I did come here.”

From the moment he first donned his Redskins uniform, the diminutive Morton made his presence known. Whether standing at the 30-yard line fielding a punt, lining up in the backfield or flanking out as a receiver, the 5-foot-8, 203-pounder draws plenty of attention.

“The first thing you do is look at his stature, and you say, ‘No way,’” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “Then after you watch him, and you watch his passion, and the way God has blessed him physically, you go, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Because he has the natural ability. He can catch your eye. He has that ability, where you go, ‘Wow, what was that?’”

Morton also has the book smarts to go along with that natural ability. He spends hours watching tape of opposing kickoff and punt coverage teams, hoping to pick up on nuances that could turn a pedestrian 8-yard return into a touchdown.

Morton keeps a log of all those opponents, shares the information with his teammates and together they create a game plan. The intent is not only to learn opposing players’ tendencies but for Morton and his blockers to learn one another’s.

“I can cut it back any way,” he said of his returning style. “The return might say go to the middle, but you never know, I might take it any which way. So you better be on your toes. We put a lot of effort into it. And it shows.”

All the long hours of scout work and special teams meetings might lead to big plays only a handful of times during a season. But when a kick returner and his blockers are in perfect sync, the result can be a thing of pure beauty.

Morton, for one, should know. He had returned 100 kickoffs and punts in his NFL career before finally breaking one in last season’s opener at Buffalo, a 98-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. A couple of hours later, he had touchdown No.2 — a game-winning, 96-yarder in overtime.

Morton became only the fifth player in NFL history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game, a fairly notable accomplishment. Of course, when your goal is to reach the end zone every time you touch the ball, you’re never completely satisfied.

“Does he expect to score every time? Sure he does,” special teams coach Mike Stock said. “Do we expect him to score every time? Nah, not really. It’s unnatural to do that.

“But I’ll tell you what, every time he does touch it, there are a lot of people on the other side scared to death.”

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