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BY RICH CAMPBELL
ASHBURN--If you thought the Washington Redskins' offense was ineffective last season, imagine how that group would languish if Clinton Portis and Santana Moss were removed from it.
The results would be crippling, right? Well, that's the comparison Redskins special-teams coach Danny Smith uses to explain the tall task he faces this preseason. After linebacker Khary Campbell's offseason departure and wideout James Thrash's retirement, Smith will spend the next five weeks trying to unearth replacements for two of the Redskins' best special-teams players.
It's a conundrum that some might overlook, especially considering the Redskins' offensive struggles last season. But Smith knows it's imperative to prevent a drop-off in an area so critical to winning.
"It's hard, man. I miss those guys so much," Smith said, his voice hoarse after Saturday's hour-long special-teams practice. "You take away the top tacklers on your team, and there's a void."
The Redskins' offseason special-teams makeover will keep Smith busy during the preseason. Besides replacing Thrash and Campbell, he'll decide a placekicking battle between in-cumbent Shaun Suisham and four-year veteran Dave Rayner. He'll also incorporate new punter Hunter Smith into his plans.
Campbell and Thrash were Washington's leading special-teams tacklers in 2008. Campbell, a special-teams co-captain with Rock Cartwright, had 27 to lead the team for the fourth consecutive season.
His contract expired at the end of last year, and the seven-year veteran did not re-sign. He currently isn't receiving much interest on the free-agent market, according to Cartwright, who spoke with him via phone on Saturday.
"I don't know how you can replace somebody like that," fullback Mike Sellers said. "He still hasn't signed with a team, so it would be nice to get him back, hint, hint."
Thrash, who had 22 special-teams tackles last season, retired at age 34 because of a neck injury. The Redskins recently hired him to assist with player programs.
"I tell him all the time: 'You don't look good in that coaching shirt. I liked you better when you had that damn jersey on,'" Smith joked.
But Smith, understanding the business side of the game, is eager to find the next Campbell and Thrash. It's a difficult job, considering that he must determine replacements for them on four different units: punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.