With training camp set to begin on July 26, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, finishing today with the team’s specialists.
The specialists are a close-knit group off the field, which allows them to be comfortable with each other on the field.
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
With only three players being full-time specialists, kicker Dustin Hopkins, long-snapper Nick Sundberg and punter Tress Way have the opportunity to spend more time off the field than any other position groups. While their film meetings do not last as long as their teammates, they use the extra time to grow their relationships while paying attention to the details of the snapping and kicking techniques.
Dedicating a lot of time to increase team chemistry has allowed the trio to build a special bond, according to Sundberg.
“It’s pretty easy to build a relationship when you spend so much time together,” Sundberg said. “We don’t have the quantity of meetings that the rest of the guys do. So we spend a lot of time together either in the training room just kind of hanging in the tubs or playing ping-pong or in the weight room together. Whatever it may be. It’s easy to get close when you spend so much time together.”
After making almost 84 percent of his field goals during his first three years with the Redskins, Washington determined that Hopkins was their go-to guy when a field goal was needed. Signing the Houston native to a contract extension this offseason, the Redskins look for him to have his best season in 2018.
Realizing that some kickers move around often in the NFL, Hopkins said that he is using his extension has motivation to make Washington his home for good.
“Just to have a place that you want to be at and they want you at as well is invaluable, not only for me personally, but for my family,” Hopkins said. “Especially in the kicking world, there’s so much turnover in a lot of places, to finally have a place where you show some stability, I just feel really blessed to be here. I’m looking forward to another season.”
The Redskins’ focus when it comes to special teams will be to avoid giving the ball up as little as possible. Way was forced to punt 83 times in 2017, which was tied for the 11th most in the NFL.
Way and the rest of the special teams unit want to decrease the number of times the punt team is needed on the field, allowing the offense more opportunities to score.
The Redskins began the move from Redskins Park to training camp at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va. on Friday July, 20, 2018.
“Looking at a year like this year , it’s tough,” Way said. “It’s kind of like that “what if” where you look at some of these games we played in early in the year and the teams we were beating. We were really rolling, and it’s just things that are out of your control. That’s something that I’ve learned still as a young player. You can only control what you can control and hope for the best.
“I think it’ll add to the anticipation of next year, just within the locker room. I’m sure the fans will be fired up, I’m sure everybody will be excited, but I can tell you that in this locker room, that anticipation will carry over into next year, because we really felt like we were rolling.”
WHAT TO WATCH:
The main thing to watch for regarding special teams is the new rule regarding kickoffs. Prior to this season, the NFL approved changes to avoid a running start down the field as well as increasing the players’ safety.
While the rule changes have been a challenge, special teams coach Ben Kotwica approves of the new kickoff format because it helps prevent more injuries in addition to giving the fans exciting special teams plays.
“We’re working on it. I’m encouraged by it,” Kotwica said. “I was part of the big group in making the play safer. Special teams coordinators from across the league went up to the league office, Rich McKay, Troy Vincent, and medical guys. It was a good effort to put something together to keep the play exciting and make it safe.”
Included with the running start on the 35-yard line rule, the league took out wedge blocking and players that are lined up in the setup zone are the only ones that may come together in a double-team block. Instead of all players being required to stay behind the restraining line, at least eight players must be in the 15-yard setup zone while three players can remain outside of it. These rule changes eliminates the jump-set attack block and limits blocking schemes.
Even though Kotwica faces the change of teaching the special teams players the new technique of blocking on kick returns, he sees the potential of how the new rules can play in the Redskins’ favor.
“It will be determined. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out,” Kotwica said. “I think it’s split a little bit. My take is that the blocking is going to be a little bit more difficult for the return team because you’ve got guys that are closer to the restraining line. There’s a little more space on the backend. However, there’s also a little bit more space on the kick. So that ability to kick the ball in the endzone and if it does go into the back of the endzone it’s a touchback. If you are in a situation where you are still facing a dangerous return.
“You still want to kick it deep, and have the touchback availability. But the other thing is that stagnant start, that start from the 34-yard-line. So it will create a little bit more space but hopefully in the end it makes it safer and keeps the excitement of play because it’s a very good play that’s had an impact in many games. If you go back to some Super Bowls, Baltimore versus San Francisco, Devin Hester, Desmond Howard, so I think we’ve found a way to make it safe and keep it exciting.”