Coverage unit faces another challenge in Seahawks' Washington

Kick returner still dangerous despite sub-par season, Ravens say

November 10, 2011|By Edward Lee

The Seattle Seahawks’ Leon Washington has been unable to repeat his prolific season of last year, ranking in the bottom half of the NFL in kick returns thus far and becoming almost an afterthought.

Try telling that to the Ravens.

“He certainly has our attention,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said during his weekly briefing Thursday. “We have a lot of respect for him. He’s a fine player, and he’s another one of those guys who can return the ball on both kick returns and punt returns. So anytime you get a skilled athlete in space, there’s an opportunity for the return team to make a play.”

Last season, Washington had the attention of every Seahawks opponent. His average of 25.6 yards on kick returns ranked eighth in the league, and he returned three for touchdowns. In doing so, Washington moved into second place on the NFL’s list of career kick returns for touchdowns with seven – just one behind the Cleveland Browns’ Josh Cribbs’ eight scores.

Washington hasn’t enjoyed that kind of success thus far. His 22.7-yard average ranks 24th in the league, and he has yet to find the end zone.

Still, Washington could find a remedy for what ails him in the Ravens, who rank last in the NFL in covering kicks and have surrendered a kickoff and a punt return for touchdowns in the same season for the first time since 2002.

“You’ve still got to respect what he did in the past,” said linebacker Albert McClellan, who leads the team in special-teams tackles with eight. “He’s still got it in him. He’s probably got a chip on his shoulder, and we’ve given away two this year. He’s got to feel that this game is his game. So we’ve got to give respect and do what we’ve got to do to not let that happen again.”

One weapon in the Ravens’ arsenal is kicker Billy Cundiff, who is tied with the Green Bay Packers’ Mason Crosby for third in the league with 29 touchbacks. But asking Cundiff to drive balls through the damp air and expected showers at CenturyLink Field could be a risky proposition.

“Well, getting touchbacks would neutralize him because you’d be taking away his ability to touch the ball,” Cundiff said. “I think the other thing is just making sure that when we do cover kicks, everybody stays really diligent about their assignments and really makes sure that we don’t get out of position because he can really exploit that.”

McClellan said the coverage unit can’t rely on Cundiff to boot every kickoff through the back of the end zone.

“We’re not going to ask him to do that,” McClellan said. “At the end of the day, we’ve still got to do our jobs. So just in case it doesn’t go out, we’ve got to be fundamentally sound. We’ve still got to play and do our jobs.”

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