ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Chris Thompson hasn't returned punts regularly since he was in high school. Nevertheless, when Richard Crawford went down in Saturday's preseason game, Washington Redskins special teams coach Keith Burns opted to give the rookie a try.
``I really was surprised,'' Thompson said Monday. ``Coach Burns just came over to me and he was like, `Do you want to catch some punts?' I'm just glad he trusted me enough to go back there.''
He'll probably get to do it again. After the game, Crawford was walking through the locker room on crutches, out for the season with three damaged ligaments in his left knee.
And there's no obvious replacement on the roster. Coach Mike Shanahan joked he had ``14 players returning punts'' at practice in search of a candidate to replace Crawford.
``We experimented today,'' Shanahan said.
Santana Moss or DeAngelo Hall? Sure, they've done it in the past, but it can be risky to have a top offensive or defensive player double as a return man, except possibly for spot duty in a key situation.
Shanahan said he would go with Moss or Hall ``if they're the best returner,'' but Moss made it clear he's not thrilled about the idea.
``It's nothing that I'm going to call upon myself to do,'' said Moss, who last returned a punt in a regular season game in 2009. ``I'm always ready for whatever I might be asked to do. If I'm asked to go back there I will, but it's nothing that I'm going to go out there and make my duty unless it's given to me.''
Undrafted rookie receiver Skye Dawson was Crawford's primary backup throughout much of training camp and has seven returns for 76 yards in the preseason, but all along he's looked like someone destined for the practice squad. The Redskins have more than enough receivers, so keeping Dawson just to return punts would mean sacrificing a roster spot elsewhere.
But, with Crawford's injury, his chance of making the final 53 has gone up considerably.
``I knew special teams would be where I would have to make my mark, that's my way of making the team,'' Dawson said. ``I don't get too many opportunities at receiver.''
Thompson might be the answer. The fifth-round pick from Florida State had three returns for 48 yards, including a 31-yarder, after Crawford was hurt Saturday, but he's having to relearn the skill on the fly and has had issues with ball security in plays from scrimmage as a running back. After he fumbled for the second time in the preseason, he received a sobering reminder from Shanahan.
``He kept it simple,'' Thompson said. ``It was basically `I don't care how good you are, if you put the ball on the ground you're not going to play.' I think that was something I needed to hear.''
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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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