Redskins want to catch Chiefs' rabbit
By Ryan O'Halloran
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Hanging in the locker of 24 Washington Redskins players this week is a piece of paper with two phrases. It's the coaching staff's way of reminding those on special teams that Dante Hall, Kansas City's thrilling return man, is a potential game changer.
Typed on the sheet is: "A cover man's value to the team is measured by his distance from the ball at the end of the return."
Translation: The Redskins coverage teams need to swarm Hall.
Written in red marker is: "We need everybody -- every kick -- to catch the rabbit!!"
Translation: Hall is the rabbit tomorrow at Arrowhead Stadium. The Redskins are the hunters.
"Gotta chase the rabbit," safety Ryan Clark said. "There's no scheme you can devise for him -- you just have to make sure everybody runs to the ball and makes the tackle."
Hall, one of the top return men in NFL history, is 5-feet-8 and 187 pounds, but he uses his small frame to shift his momentum and dart and slip between tacklers.
Hall enters ranked fifth in kickoff return average (28.1 yards), and his six career touchdowns on kickoff returns -- the latest came two weeks ago against Philadelphia on a 96-yard score -- are tied for the most in NFL history with four players, including Gale Sayers and Mel Gray. Hall is averaging 7.0 yards on punt returns, a product of teams kicking away from him.
Hall's 10 career combined kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns are third in league history, two behind former Redskins returner Eric Metcalf.
"Those kinds of guys are hard to find," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "I have great respect for [Hall]. He's changed games for them, and he's a particular concern for us."
The Redskins' coverage teams have been solid in their 3-1 start. They rank second in punt return average (3.3 yards) and seventh in kickoff coverage (20.1 yards).
The key to containing Hall is discipline. Each player has a lane running down the field, and any kind of wandering could have consequences.
"It's like you're setting a net out," long snapper Ethan Albright said. "Everybody fans out, and you don't want to follow your own jersey down the field because that means two guys are in the same lane. When [Hall] gets the ball, he's looking for an open spot. If we've got guys spread out, he's likely to go sideline to sideline. If he's doing that, he's not getting toward the end zone."
Redskins H-back/special teams player Mike Sellers compares Hall to Barry Sanders. Hall's short frame makes for a smaller target and a tougher task to tackle.
"He's so elusive," said Sellers, who leads the Redskins with eight special teams tackles. "He has a low center of gravity, and he's quick as heck."
The ideal way to limit Hall on punt returns is to keep the ball out of his hands. Kansas City's opponents have punted 11 times this season, and Hall has only six returns and two fair catches.
"When I was with Cleveland last year, we played him in the preseason, and what we wanted to do was move him around and catch him off guard instead of punting it right down the middle," Redskins punter Derrick Frost said. "Some people want to hang it high up the middle or punt it wide. It all depends on a coach's philosophy."
Even when a punt hits the ground, Hall isn't afraid to scoop it up.
"He'll pick it up on the bounce and try to make something happen," Redskins special teamer Rock Cartwright said. "Every time he gets his hands on the ball, he thinks he can take it the distance."
The Redskins have a couple of options on kickoffs -- long kicks and short kicks. Kicker Nick Novak has yet to record a touchback, but twice in the Seattle game Oct. 2, he lofted kickoffs that were fielded for fair catches by nonreturners on the 22- and 27-yard lines.
"In the previous games, teams have kicked directionally to make it difficult for him to get to it," Novak said. "He's really dangerous when he gets one down the middle because he has the whole field to work with."
Throwing the strategy and stay-in-your-lanes chatter aside, Clark said stopping Hall comes down to not getting frustrated because Hall's manic running style could present multiple tackling chances.
"The one good thing is you miss him the first time, he might be coming back to you in a couple seconds, so you have to be patient," Clark said.