- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2011

It was one of those moments when you have to rub your eyes to make sure what you’re seeing is real. Only a few feet of grass were visible between Brandon Banks’ heels and the back of the end zone when he caught the kickoff Friday night. Surely he would just kneel for a touchback and give the Washington Redskins possession at their 20-yard line.

In a flash, though, Banks was racing across midfield. And when you consider the special set of circumstances, it wasn’t that surprising, after all.

Banks has unique speed, and it was a preseason game. And most notably, the NFL has implemented new kickoff rules this season.

To reduce the frequency of high-impact collisions typical on kickoffs, the league has required teams to kick off from their 35-yard line instead of the 30. The intent is to reduce the amount of returns, but Banks wouldn’t let an opportunity pass.

“If Danny [Smith, special teams coach] tells me I can bring it out, that’s what I’m going to do,” Banks said after Sunday’s practice. “I’m going to try to run it back every time.”

The Redskins‘ top return man, however, realizes the new rule diminishes his value.

“It is what it is,” he conceded. “I’ve got to follow the rules.”

The kickoffs in Washington’s 16-7 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday were a microcosm of the league-wide results during the first weekend of preseason games. Of the seven kickoffs in the game, Banks’ 58-yard return was the only one that didn’t result in a touchback.

Redskins kicker Graham Gano booted all five of his kickoffs through the end zone.

“I hope they keep it that way,” Gano said with a smile. “It was a lot of fun.”

Fun for him, maybe. Rather boring, though, for those who looked forward to one of the sport’s most unpredictable plays.

And for Smith, it means more strategic planning on both sides of the ball.

He decides the circumstances under which Banks or any Redskins return man can run the ball out of the end zone. Banks had his permission to bring it out Friday night.

“There’s a lot that goes into that thing: Who’s your returner? How good is your coverage? What’s the hang time?” Smith said. “We have a standard, and you have to meet certain things to be able to bring the ball out.”

It’s a major drag for Banks, who became something of a star last season as a return specialist on a team with a dearth of playmakers. He took one kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown against Detroit.

At 5-7, 155 pounds, his speed and shiftiness are critical assets in the return game, but his size limits his effectiveness as a receiver. He has to make his mark on special teams.

“I’m not too happy with [the rule], and I think Brandon can agree,” said Redskins receiver Terrence Austin, who kneeled on a kickoff in the end zone for a touchback Friday. “He’s a special guy. If it’s 8 yards deep, he’s the type of guy that would be able to take it out.”

Also hurting Banks’ push to make the roster again in his second NFL season is lingering soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. He missed practice Sunday after having “a few CCs” of fluid drained from it, coach Mike Shanahan said.

“That’s part of camp, part of the process,” Shanahan said. “As he gets in better football shape, he’s going to feel better in game situations. Our game plan is to have him full speed by the first game of the season.”

Banks is eager to be full-speed ahead, too, both health-wise and coming out of the end zone.

“Whenever Danny gives me the green light,” he said, “that’s when I go.”

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