- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2015

ASHBURN — Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson cringed at the thought of his performances on kickoff and punt returns during his rookie season.

“They were…,” Thompson said, his sentence trailing off as he paused to find the right words. “Not good.”

Thompson returned eight kicks for 160 yards in the first three games of the 2013 season before Josh Morgan and Niles Paul took over the duties.
This season, the third-year back will get another chance.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said on Thursday that Thompson will handle kickoff returns on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Rookie Jamison Crowder will return punts.

The 5-foot-8, 193-pound Thompson doesn’t need to watch the film from 2013 to see the improvements he’s made since then on the field. He’s been working at the position diligently in practice and as a result, the game has slowed down immensely.

The kickoff coverage doesn’t seem to close in on him so fast anymore, the blocks crystalizing more clearly in front of him.

“I see everything totally different,” Thompson said. “In ‘13, all I was seeing was color when I was running instead of actually seeing guys so I’m seeing everything a lot better now.

“It’s good to just be back 10 yards or so from the wedge blocking in front of me and seeing how everything is operating. It’s pretty fun.”

Though Gruden told reporters on Thursday that Thompson would be returning kicks, nobody actually told Thompson.

He knew he was a candidate for the job, along with Crowder, Rashad Ross and Andre Roberts, but he wasn’t certain he’d be returning kickoffs until he shuffled through the game plan in a special teams meeting on Wednesday and spotted his name in the formation.

Thompson said he also expects to play as the team’s third-down back, a role he adapted to throughout the preseason.

Crowder, the speedy fourth-round draft pick out of Duke, has a strong history as a punt returner.

In his four-year college career, he returned 65 punts for 869 yards and four touchdowns — two of which came in his senior season.

Crowder had plenty of success at Duke returning punts and said he’s comfortable being in that same position for the Redskins on Sunday.

The more challenging part for the 22-year-old will be managing his emotions ahead of his debut.

“I feel pretty good, just anxious a little bit for my first NFL game,” Crowder said. “I just need to be myself, don’t get too high, don’t get too low. If you do something good, just move on and keep playing. If you do something bad, just forget about it and keep playing. It’s a long game. I’m just at the point, I’m focused to do what I’ve got to do to help the team, whether it’s special teams or on offense.”

Waiting game on Griffin

The Redskins are still awaiting word on quarterback Robert Griffin III’s clearance for Sunday’s game. Griffin, who sustained a concussion in the team’s second preseason game, sat out the last two games and has been limited in practice.

On Thursday, coach Jay Gruden had no new update on the quarterback, saying that the team was still waiting for written confirmation of his clearance.

Griffin visited a specialist on Tuesday and Gruden said the team was waiting then for a written confirmation.

Griffin is currently considered the third quarterback on the depth chart, but once he is cleared, the Redskins will have to decide whether or not he leapfrogs backup Colt McCoy, who is expected to back up Kirk Cousins.

Kerrigan on a pitch count

Gruden doesn’t tell outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan when he’s coming off the field.

The fifth-year linebacker gets to work at his own pace — a privilege he’s earned for himself. Those are the perks that come with tallying 38 sacks in four seasons.
Kerrigan is almost always on the field with the defense. He played 94.4 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2014.

Sunday will be his first game back since undergoing an arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs in his left knee May, which kept him out of preseason activity. Gruden said Kerrigan may be taking more breaks than usual.

“How he handles guys blocking him and rushing the pass blocker consistently will determine how many plays he plays,” Gruden said. “He’s a guy who’s really on his own pitch count. If you’re tired, get yourself out. If you’re not tired, stay in there. Ryan is on his own, and I trust the fact he’ll give us good information.”

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