Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said he was satisfied with the overall effort by first-year kicker
In 2014, Washington Redskins opponents on average began their drives from their own 25.84-yard line after kickoffs, ranking 23rd in the NFL.
The difference from one season to the other was first-year kicker Dustin Hopkins, who was signed by Washington Week 2 for that very purpose: to do everything he could to ensure the opposition would begin its drives as far away from the end zone as possible.
On Monday, Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica told “Redskins Nation” host Larry Michael that Hopkins’ big leg – as well as some quality kickoff coverage – did him proud in 2015.
“Yeah, I think the numbers will tell you that starting field position, where you can hold your opponent to, is a key statistic and it helps the football team,” Kotwica said. “I think Dustin is a part of that, also the guys that were covering getting a little more comfortable. We had some carry over from last year, getting more comfortable with what we were trying to do, so I think anytime you can change the field a little bit in that phase of the game that it helps your team.”
Hopkins’ signing was noteworthy, considering he was brought in to replace Kai Forbath, whose 87-percent field goal percentage from 2012-2015 was the best in team history.
But Forbath struggled throughout training camp leading into the 2015 season, and after missing a 46-yard field goal Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins – coupled with the Redskins’ need for deeper, more consistent kickoffs – the team decided to go in another direction.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Kotwica said. “You know, Kai did a lot of great things here for the Redskins, made a lot of key kicks, but when we just looked at where we were at and where we wanted to get to, Dustin becoming available gave us an opportunity to, we think, improve, and I think that payed off to fruition.”
A sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in the 2013 NFL Draft, Hopkins, a Florida State product, was inactive for Buffalo’s first five games his rookie season before being placed on Injured Reserve with a groin injury.
The next season for Hopkins was spent on the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad before he was waived by the team last Sept. 5. Nine days later, the Redskins came calling.
By season’s end, all questions about Hopkins’ “unknown” attributes had been answered. He converted 25-of-28 field goals for an impressive percentage of 89.3. He also made 39-of-40 extra points (97.5 percent) from the 15-yard line, which had been moved by the league from the two-yard line for the 2015 season.
“He did an outstanding job coming in,” Kotwica said. “Great pop on the football, excellent leg strength which was demonstrated in the way he kicked the football off and made some key kicks throughout the course of the year.”
Overall, Kotwica, who is entering his third year with the Redskins in 2016, is excited about the kicking game with Hopkins leading the charge moving forward.
“He’s a good young kicker,” Kotwica said. “I think he’s got a lot of upside – areas to improve – so I would say that move paid off for us.”