ASHBURN, Va. — The uproar over the Washington Redskins name is nothing new to the team’s new punter.
Tress Way, one of the surprise selections to the 53-man roster, played in high school for the Union Redskins in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the team runs through a teepee to take the field and the ubiquitous slogan is “All my life I want to be a Redskin.”
“We would have people protest our games and stuff,” Way said Monday. “It was just a bad deal.”
One would think, therefore, that Way would have a firm stance on the debate as to whether the NFL team should change its name, but he’s learned quickly not to wade into those waters.
“Hey,” he said with a laugh, “I’m just here to play.”
Way arrived in Washington less than two weeks ago, and he doesn’t yet have his own nameplate at his locker. When he won the punting job, it was just one of several twists along the road for a team attempting to fix one of the worst set of special teams units in NFL history.
The Redskins brought two punters to training camp and ended up cutting both of them. They used a draft pick on a kicker, and he didn’t make the team. One of the linebackers signed especially for his special teams skills is out of the season with an ankle injury.
But free agent acquisition Andre Roberts, as expected, will handle return duties. New special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica has restored a sense of pride and professionalism, calling the units his “Special Forces.” Other special team additions — including Adam Hayward and Akeem Jordan — are eager to fill their roles.
“They bring a positive attitude to special teams, which is always great,” long snapper Nick Sundberg said. “They look forward to special teams periods. It’s not, ‘Aw, man, we’ve got to have special teams.’ That way of looking at it has really helped the group as a whole.”
The Redskins opened training camp with Robert Malone and Blake Clingan dueling to be the punter, but Clingan was cut after two preseason games.
At about the same time, Way was waived by the Chicago Bears. Washington claimed him, and he said Kotwica essentially greeted him with the message: “Hey, you’ve got 10 days. If you punt better than Malone, you’ve got the job.”
Way did just that — averaging 45.3 yards on four punts in preseason — and will make his NFL regular season debut Sunday against the Houston Texans. He likely won’t have a long leash.
“For Week 1, we’ll see how he does,” coach Jay Gruden said. “If he does well, it’s his job. If he struggles for whatever reason, then, obviously like every position, if anybody struggles you have to look to upgrade.”
Kicker Kai Forbath’s prospects appeared dicey when the Redskins made Zach Hocker (seventh round) one of only two kickers selected in this year’s draft, and they become even dicier when Forbath missed a field goal and put a kickoff out of bounds in the first preseason game.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of times,” Forbath said. “But I think I turned it around.”
Forbath worked more on the length of his kickoffs this year — a liability last season — and both kickers looked solid in practice. Gruden said Forbath did enough to hold on, and that Hocker would have needed to score a clear knockout to overtake the incumbent.
“In training camp, (Forbath’s) percentage was a little bit higher,” Gruden said. “And kickoffs were close enough that there wasn’t a drastic difference. So, hats off to Kai. He took the challenge and I think he is a better kicker because of it.”
Special teams took a hit when linebacker Darryl Sharpton suffered a high ankle sprain late in camp. It’s an injury that usually takes several weeks to heal, but Gruden said it was worse than anticipated. Sharpton was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday.
It’s a setback, but not enough to dampen the optimism of the special teams, who have nowhere to go but up.
“People may have low expectations of us,” said tight end and special teams standout Niles Paul. “But we don’t have low expectations.”
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