- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2014

As they put together the worst special teams performance in the league last season, the Washington Redskins had four different players return kickoffs and three return punts. This season, if all goes according to plan, they will only use one.

First-year coach Jay Gruden said this week that wide receiver Andre Roberts is “the No. 1 option” as the team’s kickoff and punt returner entering Sunday’s season-opener against the Houston Texans.

Roberts served both roles as a rookie in Arizona in 2010. Although he has only returned a total of seven punts or kicks in the three seasons since, the 26-year-old said he has been the backup returner each year and practiced returns throughout his career.

“So once I came here, I was already used to it,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t really like a huge transition, like I stopped doing it for a while. It was just that in-game kind of thing, where I got some in the preseason to get me back into it.”

When the Redskins signed Roberts to a four-year, $16 million contract in March, they did so with the intent of making him their No. 2 wide receiver alongside Pierre Garcon. Then DeSean Jackson became available, and Roberts‘ role on the team changed. He will likely see fewer targets as a receiver, which makes him value his job as a returner that much more.



“I view it as being able to get my hands on the ball more,” Roberts said. “I don’t know how much I’ll get at receiver, but hopefully I get a lot there, too.”

In limited return opportunities during the preseason, Roberts showed flashes of speed and shiftiness. In the opener against the New England Patriots, he returned a punt 14 yards. Against the Baltimore Ravens, he took another punt 23 yards on a return.

The longest punt return by any Redskins player last season was 34 yards by Josh Morgan.

“I like him a lot,” special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said of Roberts. “He’s been very conscientious. He’s been in every meeting asking questions — the finer details of what we’re looking for, whether it’s in the punt return or kickoff return game. He’s done a good job of handling the ball, so I’m excited for him to have that opportunity come Sunday.”

Roberts indicated he will not take a particularly aggressive or conservative approach to returning. If the ball is kicked six or seven yards into the end zone, for example, he’ll take it out. If it’s much deeper than that, he’s content to take a knee and give the offense the ball at the 20-yard line.

As Roberts prepares for his first game with the Redskins, he’s excited for any and all opportunities to make plays, regardless of where they come.

“[Special teams] is another part of the game that you can get your hands on the ball,” he said. “You just run with it.”

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