Between now and training camp, Mike Jones takes a closer look at players who find themselves competing for key roles this season, or are in position battles this preseason.
After years of instability at place kicker, the Redskins seemed to have finally found their guy when they signed Kai Forbath two years ago, and saw him make 17 of 18 field goals as a first-year player.
Forbath’s accuracy dipped a little last season when he made 18 of 22 with a long of 50 yards. But his .818 success clip still proved far better than those of his two most immediate predecessors – Billy Cundiff (.583) and Graham Gano (.686 in 2011 and .756 in 2012).
However, success on kickoffs proved a weakness. Forbath’s average of 60.2 yards per attempt and his 14 touchbacks both ranked among the fewest for the league’s full-time kickers.
The Redskins find themselves in the midst of an overhaul in the special teams department. Keith Burns was not retained after last year’s debacle of a first season with the team, and one of new head coach Jay Gruden’s first moves included the hiring of coordinator Ben Kotwica away from the New York Jets.
Kotwica has stressed the importance of competition at every spot on his units, all the way down to kicker, punter and long-snapper.
The Redskins during previous years generally would bring in a veteran kicker to compete with the incumbent during the offseason. But this year, Gruden and Kotwica used a seventh-round pick to draft Arkansas’s Zach Hocker, who ranked among the league leaders on kickoffs. Hocker during offseason practices also has done well on field-goal attempts, putting more pressure on Forbath.
The two will continue to compete throughout training camp, but the true test will come during the four preseason games.
Forbath would seem to have the edge because of his experience, and Gruden acknowledged that it’s rare for a rookie kicker to encounter much success.
However, the Redskins thought enough of Hocker to draft him rather than trying to sign him as an undrafted free agent, where they could have risked losing out on him to another team.
Forbath has spent the offseason working to improve his kickoffs. That, and continued accuracy on field goals is the key to his job security.
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