ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Washington Redskins rookie punter Durant Brooks kneeled on his right knee and placed his left index finger on the grass. He swiveled his head to the left toward kicker Shaun Suisham, who responded with a slight nod.
Brooks then looked to the right, where a football was being placed in a JUGS machine. The machine dispatched the ball directly toward Brooks, who handed the snap, placed the ball on the grass, rotated the laces and held it in place with his index and middle fingers as Suisham kicked it.
A perfect hold. The job looks so simple, but it helped get Brooks where he is today. The sixth-round selection from Georgia Tech was the winner of the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best collegiate punter and was the only player at his position chosen in April's NFL draft, but special teams coach Danny Smith insists the Redskins wouldn't have made the pick if Brooks couldn't hold.
``Going into my senior year I knew that holding would come into big play,'' Brooks said. ``It would definitely help my chances at the next level.''
Brooks' holding and punting rituals are getting more scrutiny than the norm for an NFL training camp because his battle against incumbent Derrick Frost is the most interesting position battle in an otherwise very stable Redskins world.
There are clear favorites at all 22 starting positions on offense and defense, and Suisham has no competition at all, leaving Brooks vs. Frost as a compelling plot to watch when the preseason opens with Sunday's Hall of Fame game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Well, OK. Maybe watching two guys punt and hold isn't compelling, but at least there's a twist: The rookie is the favorite.
During the offseason, Smith had a blunt conversation with Frost, showing him on paper that the Redskins ``didn't have an NFL punter'' in the playoff loss to Seattle at the end of last season. Frost punted eight times in that game, and Smith said not a single one of them had a hang time of 4.5 seconds - the benchmark for a decent punt. A 33-yard effort in the fourth quarter gave the Seahawks good field position to score the go-ahead touchdown.
``Derrick is in the middle of the pack in punting in this league,'' Smith said. ``He's not a bad punter, and he's not one of the elite guys. I think he can do better. He had an off year, he would admit that as well. He's had slumps in the past that he's come out of. This particular year he didn't really come out of it. That generated this competition.''
Frost's 41.0-yard overall average ranked 28th of 32 punters in the league last year, and his 36.4-yard net average placed 22nd. He's responded well when the Redskins have brought in training camp challengers in previous years, but he knows this time is different.
``It's been hard to just kind of relax and let things unfold,'' Frost said. ``I don't feel right now that I'm hitting the ball as well as I should be, but I've had plenty of bad weeks of practice and plenty of good games following it, so I'm not real concerned.''
Brooks knows the Redskins are going to give him every chance to win the job, having invested a draft pick in him, but he also knows he now has to justify that he was worth it.
``I don't think of it as pressure, but I think of it as showing them that I definitely have the ability,'' Brooks said. ``They're expecting a lot out of me. It's a great motivator for me.''
Smith said it will be easy to determine a winner - just simply look at the numbers once the preseason games are done. Gross yards. Net yards. Hang time.
``We're going to lay it on the table and match those numbers up,'' Smith said, ``and keep the best guy.''

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