Punter Tom Tupa led the NFC with a 44.1 yard average last year, his first with Washington. But it was a season Tupa just as soon would forget — and not because of the Redskins’ 6-10 record.
Tupa’s wife, Beth, was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. As she received treatment in Cleveland during the season, Tupa was given permission by coaches Joe Gibbs and Danny Smith to travel home as often as possible. Her disease is now in remission.
“It was tough, but I was able to be there a lot, and that helped a lot,” Tupa said. “Coach Gibbs and Coach Smith, I appreciate what they did. I was assured that everything was OK, so I just kept going. She’s past everything, and she’s looking forward.”
In addition to his wife’s major illness, Tupa had chest pains last fall, but they turned out not to be serious. So at 39, Tupa is preparing for his 17th season. His only competition in camp, fellow Ohio State graduate Andy Groom, was 9 when Tupa debuted with Phoenix in 1988 and has yet to punt in a regular-season game. Groom has a strong leg but failed to make Tampa Bay’s roster in 2003 and San Francisco’s last summer.
Chris Clemons had three sacks in his first NFL season last fall. That wouldn’t seem that big a deal except only four Redskins had more and Clemons played in just six games. Clemons, whom Washington signed after the 2003 draft, continued his torrid pace with another sack in Saturday’s scrimmage.
This pass-rushing prowess is a relatively new trait for the rangy, 6-foot-3, 240-pound Clemons, who had just one sack as a senior at Georgia on a defensive line that included future NFL first-round draft choices Johnathan Sullivan and David Pollack.
“I didn’t blitz much or rush on third down in college,” Clemons said. “I thought I was a standup linebacker. I didn’t rush the passer until I got here. [Former defensive coordinator] George Edwards saw I had a lot of speed coming off the edge, and he moved me to the strong side. Then when Gregg [Williams, Edwards’ successor] got here, he put my hand in the dirt. He said he had to find a way to get me on the field.”
Clemons believes he really will break out this season.
“I’ve grabbed a hold of the game a lot more,” said Clemons, whose brother Nic is trying to grab a defensive end job after spending the past two years on Washington’s practice squad. “I’m getting better reads off [offensive] tackles. I feel a whole lot better, shape-wise.”
Griffin, Harris return
Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, who had been out since straining a shoulder Aug. 1, returned to practice, as did cornerback Walt Harris, who had been sidelined since pulling a quadriceps the following day. However, Harris’ fellow starting corner, Shawn Springs, didn’t practice after straining a hamstring in Baltimore. Running back Dahrran Diedrick didn’t work because of an injured knee.
Gibbs said the MRI of Taylor Jacobs’ sprained big toe was negative. The receiver is expected back next week.
Change at tight end
The Redskins signed former Chicago tight end Robert Johnson and waived undrafted rookie tight end Billy Palmer. Johnson signed with Atlanta as an undrafted rookie out of Auburn in 2003. He caught on with Chicago later that year before being sidelined by a foot injury. Johnson was cut by the Bears last summer before spending December on Tampa Bay’s practice squad.