Deshazor Everett exited the Redskins locker room this week after another preseason practice under a brutal August sun.
In brief small talk as the backup safety departed, a reporter casually mentioned special teams, that unglamorous part of NFL life that can determine jobs, games and careers far beyond its limited scope during games.
Everett cursed, shook his head and walked away. If his reaction was purposefully dramatic and at least part in jest, it was still telling. Few NFL players want to be pegged as specialists. Yet it was special teams that helped Everett win and keep a roster spot with Washington during training camp in 2015. He has plenty of current teammates facing that same scenario this season.
“That’s always an issue. You come down to the fourth, fifth receiver, which one is the best on special teams?” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Fifth, sixth corner, special teams. The outside linebacker, special teams. The middle linebacker, they’ve got to be able to play [special] teams. Tight end, third tight end has to be able to play some [special] teams. Ideally, you’d like one of your running backs to play [special] teams. That may not be the case this year, we’ll wait and see.”
An undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, Everett worked to become a quality special teams player because it was a ticket to stay in the league. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him early in training camp in 2015, but the Redskins sustained a rash of injuries in the secondary that summer and quickly signed Everett. They needed depth at cornerback and safety, but also liked what Everett brought to the table on special teams.
Later that first year, Everett made a pair of special teams tackles in the NFC East-clinching victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16. He only took snaps on defense in four games in 2015, but played in 11. In 2016, Everett played in all 16 games, but again only took defensive snaps in four of them. But by 2017 he started eight of 14 games and was limited to special teams duty just twice. You can forgive Everett if he doesn’t want to go back to a special-teams only role.
Jehu Chesson knows the feeling. A fourth-round pick in 2017 by the Kansas City Chiefs, Chesson had two catches as a rookie, but was cut by the Chiefs last summer at the end of training camp and signed by the Redskins. He bounced between the active roster and the practice squad and had just one catch, but he appeared in 12 games on special teams and drew attention for his work there. On a roster crowded with young receivers, Chesson’s play on special teams could earn him a spot this time. It will be close.
That’s not necessarily the way he’d want it. Chesson was drafted in the middle rounds, after all, and had 114 catches and 12 touchdowns in four years at Michigan. But, for now, it’s a way to stick just like Everett did. And special teams success can carry over onto the field of play.
“If you go down on kickoff and make a big tackle and then the defense goes three-and-out and you’re back out there on punt return and you punish the gunner, it definitely carries over,” Chesson said. “If you get back out there on offense after that, you’re already going. It’s positive momentum.”
Compare Chesson to fellow wide receiver Darvin Kidsy, who is making his own case for a job, but will likely do so without special teams as a factor. Kidsy played 32 snaps against Cleveland on offense earlier this month in the first preseason game and 26 more against Cincinnati, but didn’t take a snap on special teams in either game.
Chesson, meanwhile, had 21 snaps on offense against the Browns and 15 against the Bengals, but also played on 21 of 56 special-teams snaps in those games. Kidsy knows the value added from a big play on special teams. As a sophomore at North Texas, he proudly said he was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10 on Sept. 22, 2014 with a jaw-dropping 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against Nicholls State. It matters.
“It plays a big part,” tight end Jeremy Sprinkle said. “Make a big play there you stand out, you get recognition from coaches.”
Sprinkle learned as a rookie watching former Redskins tight end Niles Paul, who was a special teams captain for years with Washington, but also had a 39-catch season in 2014 and forged a role on offense until he left via free agency after the 2017 season. Sprinkle, even if his roster spot is secure, is trying to make that same leap. And every little bit helps.
“I’m watching special teams everyday on tape and games, finding out who’s good, who’s struggling,” Gruden said. “If it’s close, we’re going to err on the side of special teams."
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