- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2016

ASHBURN — “Congratulations on special teams of the week!” Washington Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean Francois jokingly yelled out to Redskins’ wide receiver and returner Jamison Crowder as he exited the Redskins’ locker room.

Crowder flashed a sheepish smile and thanked Francois.

Last Sunday was a good day for Crowder. With an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown, the first Redskins’ punt return score since 2008, against the Baltimore Ravens, Crowder earned the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week honors, the 16th time a Redskin has claimed the award.

“Obviously it was exciting,” Crowder said. “It was my first award.”

Crowder and the rest of the special teams unit seem to be finding a bit of a groove this year. Crowder’s 27.7 yards per punt return not only leads the NFL — it demolishes every other returners’ marks. The Detroit Lions’ Andre Roberts, in second, is averaging eight fewer yards per return than Crowder.

It’s been night and day between this year and last season, when Crowder had 158 yards in punt returns in total, averaging 5.3 yards per return. This season, Crowder already has 194 yards. 

Crowder said this season is reminds him of his college days. At Duke, Crowder returned 65 punts for 869 yards and 5 touchdowns, a 13.4 average.

Crowder partially credits himself for the improvement. The second-year pro says he’s recognizing gaps and situations more quickly. But Crowder also believes that the special teams unit as a whole is vastly improved.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Crowder said. “Obviously they’re doing a really good job of blocking compared to last year. And, you know, this year, I just approached it a little differently. Last year I was more just catching it and trying to see where I wanted to go. But now I’m catching it and going. And, like I said, we’re doing a really good job of blocking and getting on guys to open up lanes so I can run.”

Crowder is just one of the shining stars on the Redskins’ special teams. In fact, Crowder isn’t even the first Redskin this year to win the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. Kicker Dustin Hopkins won the award in Week 3 after making all five of his field goal attempts, including a 45-yard and a 49-yard kick.

Hopkins has missed just one kick this season. And his kicking counterpart, punter Tress Way, has been equally impressive. Way has kicked six of his 14 punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, and punt returners have only averaged 8.2 yards per return. That not only says a lot about Way, but it shows how tight the kick return coverage has been with the Redskins.

“It plays a lot into the team’s success,” Crowder said. “You know, they do a really good job kicking the ball. You know, Hop [Hopkins] kicks the ball out of [the end zone]. That really limits the opposing team’s offense, starting with good field position. Tress does a really good job of punting the ball where the coaches want him to punt it. The coverage team does a really good job of going down there and making the tackle, so what they’re doing is also a big part of the success of the team.”

Crowder and that special teams unit could be crucial again this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. In Week 2, the Eagles gave up a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown to Chicago Bears returner Eddie Royal.

And don’t think Crowder is too busy basking in that award that Jean Francois is congratulating him over. That was Week 5. It’s now Week 6. 

“You really can’t get too happy, because that was last week,” Crowder said of his award. “Now, we got a big game this week. You got to move on. Now we’re preparing for Philly.”


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