NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans are hoping their fourth returner this season finally is the player to fix their woes on special teams.
The Titans signed two-time Pro Bowl returner Leon Washington on Tuesday. By Wednesday, he was busy catching kicks and punts as Tennessee prepares for a visit to Indianapolis. Tennessee is trying to make a push for the franchise's first playoff berth since 2008.
"He brings a lot of confidence to the team in general," coach Mike Munchak said. "I think when you bring a guy that's been a Pro Bowler at the position and is as professional as he is, just watching him today his attitude toward it, how he approaches his job, his confidence you see why he was good at what he did for so many years. That's exactly what we needed."
Washington's predecessors in Tennessee have struggled so much that simply catching the ball will be an upgrade.
Darius Reynaud cost Tennessee a safety on the first kickoff return of the season and also muffed a punt return before being cut. Devon Wylie was cut Tuesday after bobbling a punt in last week's 23-19 win at Oakland, even though he covered the ball up. Damian Williams hurt his hip after taking over the job, and he likely will miss his third straight game this week.
Washington has more yards combined on kick and punt returns (8,002) than all but three other players currently playing in the NFL. He's an eight-year veteran who has handled 245 kicks for 6,334 yards averaging 25.9 yards per return with eight touchdowns, and he's returned 168 punts for 1,668 yards for an average of 9.9 yards per return.
That puts him behind Josh Cribbs now with the Jets, Darren Sproles of New Orleans and Devin Hester of Chicago in combined return yards.
Washington said he hopes he's the right man for the Titans too.
"When it comes down to returning kicks and playing football just go out there and have fun doing it but prepare yourself," Washington said. "I believe my preparation when it comes down to returning kicks so I feel like I do a good job at it."
Washington was released by New England last weekend after an ankle injury limited to him two games, and he hadn't played since Oct. 6. Washington said he was contacted by some other teams he declined to name.
"It's just one of those things that this team is on the brink of making its playoff push in December, and hopefully I can help this locker room get to our goal we're trying to reach," Washington said.
Munchak said Washington passed a physical after working out for the Titans and looks good enough throwing the ball they may make him their emergency quarterback when dressing only two at the position. Asked if he's healthy, Washington said everyone is dealing with bumps and bruises this time of year but noted he ran a 40-yard dash Tuesday.
The Titans have to work out chemistry between Washington and all his new teammates. Washington said he worked out with Chris Johnson some this past offseason and Shonn Greene was a teammate with the New York Jets. Washington said simple communication will help him work smoothly with his blockers.
The timing couldn't be better as Tennessee heads to Indianapolis. Wylie lost a fumble on a kickoff when he ran into the back of a teammate in the third quarter, and Andrew Luck scored two plays later in a 30-27 win Nov. 14.
Both Munchak and Colts coach Chuck Pagano thought that turnover was the key in the game. Pagano called Washington an immediate threat with a history of success.
"We'll have our hands full," Pagano said.
Notes: TE Craig Stevens (concussion) did not practice, but Munchak hopes he can pass the baseline test Friday. WR Kendall Wright (ankle) practiced but was limited. ... C Brian Schwenke (ankle) and RT David Stewart (shoulder) both practiced fully.
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