By JOSEPH WHITE
AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Here's one reason Sav Rocca could be the MVP of the Washington Redskins: Thanks to him, they are no longer the NFL's worst punting franchise of the millennium.
It says something when the punter is a team's best player, but that's been the growing consensus this season with the Redskins (4-7). While injuries and inconsistency abound throughout the roster, Rocca's rockets have become a reliable sight.
"His bad punts," special teams coach Danny Smith said, "are what we used to consider good punts here."
It's one roster move that seems to be working out. The Redskins entered the season having used 14 punters in regular season games since 1999 - not counting placekickers called into emergency duty. They went through three last season alone.
But the 38-year-old former Australian Rules football player has averaged 45.4 yards, enough to propel Washington to 31st in punting average since 2000, ahead of the Atlanta Falcons. Even better, his 41.2 net average ranks fourth in the NFL, and he's tied for third with 21 punts inside the 20.
The big suspense was whether Rocca could make it through the entire season without a touchback. His bid ended when his 39-yarder found the end zone in the first quarter of Sunday's 23-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
"I was (ticked) with that one on the weekend," Rocca said. "It was all on me. It was a bad kick."
Brad Maynard of the Cleveland Browns is now the only regular punter in the NFL without a touchback this season.
At 265 pounds - and used to contact from his Aussie Rules days - Rocca isn't afraid to lay a lick on someone. His tackle of Arizona Cardinals return man Patrick Peterson in Week 2 is one of the Redskins' special teams highlights of the season.
"If he has a punt he's not proud of, he'll go down there and make the tackle," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Not too many guys cover who are 265." Rocca takes personally the challenge of stopping a good returner.
"My mindset going into any game is that I'm against the return man," Rocca said. "You're just trying to take them out of the game. Whether that's (punting) out of bounds, whether that's high and short and fair catches, it'll all be mixed up."
Rocca's only noteworthy gaffe came in his alternate job as holder, when his bobbled snap led to a blocked field goal in the Week 3 one-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
So the debate continues as to whether Rocca might truly be the Redskins' best player. Asked to weigh in, Shanahan dodged the question and instead gave MVP-level praise.
"He's been consistent, and anytime you've got a guy that can turn the field consistently and kick inside the 20 as much as he has, you've got to take your hat off to him," Shanahan said. "He's playing at a Pro Bowl level. He's doing a great job holding as well. I like what we've got. ... He's as good as I've ever been around."
Notes: FB Darrel Young remains sidelined from practice with a concussion. He will be tested Friday to gauge when he might return. ... S LaRon Landry (groin) and DE Stephen Bowen (knee) also did not practice Thursday.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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