1. Kotwica’s message – After the Keith Burns experiment failed miserably, Washington’s special teams units have nowhere to go but up. After studying game video and observing a unit severely lacking in discipline and execution, Jay Gruden hired former Army captain and company commander Ben Kotwica to turn the units around. Preaching dedication, pride and precise technique, Kotwica aims to do just that. The coach put an “Apply Within” sign on his office door, and after hearing his message and challenge to join his “special forces,” everyone from veterans to rookies have signed up in hopes of locking up roles on special teams and final roster spots. Returning players say that already, a change has been felt. They have bought into the coach’s philosophies, and fueled by his approach and strong communication skills, they aim to become aggressive and physical as they try to climb the league’s ranks.
2. Kicking battle – Kotwica is big on competition, and so, despite the fact that Washington returns third-year pro Kai Forbath, he convinced Gruden to draft strong-legged Arkansas place kicker Zach Hocker. Forbath has the experience edge, and does well on field goals. But Hocker appears to get better distance on kickoffs. The two will go head-to-head all camp as Kotwica looks for his man.
3. Punter – Washington released Sav Rocca this offseason, and now competing for punting duties are third-year veteran Robert Malone, who punted for Kotwica in New York, and rookie Blake Clingan.
4. Long snapper – Kotwica even had a competition at long snapper during the offseason, as Nick Sundberg and Kyle Nelson went head-to-head for the job. But Washington on Monday released Nelson, leaving Sundberg as the only long snapper on the roster. Sundberg missed the bulk of last season with a knee injury that required surgery to repair, and to fill his spot, Washington brought in Nelson, who played 11 games. Going forward, health is the biggest issue for Sundberg, a consistent long snapper, who doesn’t mind laying a hit either. He missed eight games with a broken arm in 2012, and 11 last season.
5. Kick/punt return – Washington has a number of candidates for these duties, and it will take all of training camp and likely much of the preseason to sort this out. Wide receiver Andre Roberts wants to be the guy both on kickoff and punt returns, but he has competition from Nick Williams, Santana Moss, Richard Crawford, Rashad Ross, Cody Hoffman, Roy Helu Jr. and Chris Thompson, to name a few.
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