Redskins

Redskins

For a team like the 2018 Washington Redskins, where chunk plays, long drives and touchdowns aren't easily accessible like they are in Kansas City or New Orleans, special teams and field position take on greater importance.

Fortunately for the Redskins, punter Tress Way is turning in an excellent season, routinely pinning opponents deep in their own territory and giving Washington's defense the advantage with his left foot.

But he's not the lone reason for the punt team's success.

Gunners Jehu Chesson and Danny Johnson, a second-year pro and undrafted rookie respectively, deserve a lot of credit for their work getting downfield quickly and slowing down returners at the point of the catch. The burgundy and gold are allowing just 6.7 yards per return thus far, which is good for tenth best in the NFL.

So, what does it take to be a gunner, a role that is physical, fast and underappreciated?

Well, take it from Chesson and Johnson themselves, as they individually broke down how they play the position after Wednesday's practice in Ashburn.

Lining up on the outside

When taking their spot on the numbers and near the sideline, the two speedsters are weighing various things. What side is the kick going to? Am I facing single or double coverage? Am I going to try and work inside or outside?

Johnson, who only started working as a gunner at the Senior Bowl a handful of months ago, pays close attention to his man's alignment.

"I just know what leverage I can use and what techniques I can use based on how they line up over me," he said.

 

Chesson, a wide receiver who's also been a special teamer dating back to his time at the University of Michigan, studies who he'll be across from ahead of time and compares that matchup to the wide receiver-cornerback matchup.

"His biggest thing is trying to get hands on you, and your biggest thing is trying to make sure he doesn't get hands on you," he said. "It's a chess game."

And when he sees that it's one-on-one, expect Chesson to win, something he's been doing plenty since rejoining the 'Skins in Week 7.

"It's in the gunner's favor when you're singled, because there's so much grass," he said.

Containing the returner

Getting off the line and past the return team's edge players is just step one. As Way's punt is falling from the sky, Johnson and Chesson have to converge on the returner and prevent him from getting loose.

Bringing him to the ground isn't 100-percent required, however. 

"If I'm the first guy down, even if I don't make the tackle, my job is to cross face," Johnson said. "Just force him to the pile where everyone else can rally to the ball."

"You have to go from speed to a power stance really fast," Chesson added, shaking his head at the difficulty of doing that well. "You just gotta really break down. And these returners are very, very, very good. If a returner can't make the first guy miss, he shouldn't be back there. So I just gotta take my shot and at least try to slow him down."

Of the entire coverage group, the gunners are almost always the first ones on the scene. So as long as they keep the ball-carrier occupied, they've won.

"Just make him uncomfortable back there," Chesson said. "That's the biggest thing."

Overall mindset

Johnson has logged only 39 snaps on defense up to this point. Chesson, meanwhile, is the owner of a single snap at wideout. 

Right now, the reason they're Redskins is because of the work they do for Ben Kotwica in football's third facet. And that's something they're aware of and take pride in.

"Just being the energizer," Johnson answered when asked about the approach he takes on specials. "Knowing the game is more than offense and defense."

"Like any job, take it seriously because it's very important," Chesson responded to the same question. 

And while breaking off the ball, taking the right angle and studying all matter, one factor separates itself as the most necessary quality to have as a gunner.

"It's tough, but at the end of the day, it's all effort," Chesson said. "You can say technique until you're blue in the face, but it's all effort."

MORE REDSKINS NEWS