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Replacing Tupa Won't Be Easy

When the Redskins put veteran punter Tom Tupa on injured reserve on Tuesday, it was a tough blow for the special teams. It ended the 17-year veteran's 2005 season and sent the team in search of his replacement.

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The candidates? Andy Groom is young, nervous and eager to win a full-time job in the NFL. Chris Mohr is a calm, folksy 16-year vet who has seen it all in the NFL.

On Thursday night in Baltimore, the two will square off in what will likely be a one-game competition to be the Redskins punter and holder in 2005.

For the Redskins overall, it's the final tune-up before the start of the regular season.

Whoever emerges as Tupa's replacement will be hard pressed to come up with the contributions Tupa made in 2004. A year ago, the punter had perhaps the best season of his long NFL career and could make serious claims about a Pro Bowl berth.

In 2004, Tupa dropped 30 punts inside the 20-yard line of opposing teams. That tied his career high, set in 2002 when he punted for Tampa Bay. Over his NFL career, Tupa has left 248 punts inside the 20.

"Tom exchanged tons of field position for us," head coach Joe Gibbs said recently. "That's a big part of shutting down the other team's offense."

In a word, Tupa was "outstanding" in 2004, Gibbs said.

Tupa suffered a back injury during warm-ups before the Aug. 19 pre-season game against Cincinnati. It was an injury that would end the 2005 season for Tupa, at least for the Redskins. If he works out an injury settlement with the team, it's possible he could punt for another team this year.

As for Mohr and Groom, they seem about as different as can be.

Asked about the signing of Mohr on Monday, Groom said: "I'm basically a rookie and I'm sure they wanted to have some sort of insurance."

The 6-0, 196-pound Groom, a first-year player out of Ohio State and originally from Columbus, Ohio, is seeking his first real NFL opportunity.

"What I've done in practice and in games is try to be consistent and show the coaches that they can count on me," Groom said.

For the preseason, Groom has punted 13 times for a 42.3-yard average, with a long of 56 yards. He has landed six punts inside the 20.

Mohr, who played his college ball at Alabama, has appeared in 239 games in his NFL career. He has recorded 1,152 punts for a 40.4-yard career average, with 281 punts inside the 20.

Mohr, 6-5, 215 pounds, was a sixth-round (146th overall) pick of the Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL Draft.

Mohr isn't viewing Thursday's game as a competition with Groom. "Everyone knows what I can do," he said.

If Mohr doesn't earn the Redskins job, he knows another may open up shortly. He had been negotiating with Minnesota and St. Louis prior to joining the Redskins.

"Fortunately in my position, I don't have to run plays or learn formations," Mohr said. "I just have to catch and kick it. That's pretty universal around the league, so I'll just keep on doing what I've been doing the last 15 years.

"Different venue, different city, but the job is the same. I've been blessed with some great head coaches, and playing for a Hall of Famer right now is pretty good."

As for Tupa, it's been a tough several months, in that he missed most of the Redskins' spring mini-camps and assorted workouts due to a family illness. Now, his back injury forces him to the sidelines.

Early this summer, Tupa talked about how much he liked punting for the Redskins, because of the fact that Gibbs and Danny Smith place so much emphasis on special teams in general and the punting game in particular.

"That's really helpful for a punter," said Tupa. "Not many NFL teams place such detail into their special teams."

Tupa, who has played with seven NFL clubs, also said that in each game, he tries to outdo the other team's punter in his head-to-head matchup. Statistics, for Tupa, don't matter as much as being able to outperform versus the opposing punter.

In 2004, it was the norm that Tom Tupa outworked his counterpart. Finding such a dependable replacement will be a challenge.

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