Ten Questions the Redskins Special Teams Need to Answer This Season
June 29, 2014 in Redskins Personnel
1. Who will win the kicking battle?
-In a bit of a surprise move the Redskins drafted a kicker at the end of the draft this year to challenge incumbent Kai Forbath. While on paper Forbath's accuracy took a hit last year as he connected on just 81.8% of his attempts, but a deeper look into his numbers shows he was better than that. Of his four missed field goals, one came when he was playing with a groin injury, another came in his first game back from the groin injury and his final two "misses" were blocks. That makes it tough to really blame him for those missed field goals, as he went 18 for 18, when he wasn't injured and was able to get a kick away. The real issue with Forbath is his lack of kick-off distance which allows for some favorable field position for the opponent. That's where Hocker can win this battle, if he proves to be a superior kick-off guy, and shows at least a close enough accuracy level to Forbath.
2. Will the Redskins keep a kick-off specialist on the roster?
-One solution to the kicking battle would be having the Redskins keep both kickers and use Hocker as a kick-off specialist where he is likely to make a noticeable impact over Forbath. The argument is that a good kick-off specialist is more important than a 3rd QB, 4th running back, 6th corner or whatever other position would be at the end of the Redskins roster. While that is true, it's a faulty argument. The guys at the bottom of the roster, are going to be on the inactive list each week, so the kick-off specialist has to be better than the 46th player on the roster the guy who will not get dressed because he is needed. It might still seem insignificant, but that player definitely is going to have a role in the game day plan. Other teams do it, but there is a reason why only a handful do and the Redskins need to determine if it is worth it.
3. Who will win the Redskins punting battle?
-Another big battle that is raging is who will win the punting duties for the Redskins. Right now it is between Robert Malone and Blake Clingan, neither of whom is a real household name. Malone has more experience and has been decent in some areas, but struggled in others. This looks to be a very open competition, and while it is likely that whomever wins will be an improvement over Sav Rocca, how much of an improvement is a big concern. The Redskins don't have a defense that can shut down an offense anywhere on the field, so field position is going to be extremely important to their level of success.
4. Who will win the return duties?
-The Redskins return game was pretty inept last season and it left the Redskins offense with their own field position woes, which contributed greatly to their own issues. The Redskins need someone to step up and handle the return duties this year. Perhaps it will be one player for kick-off and one for punt, but one way or another the Redskins need to get some positive returns. Early money is on wide receiver Andre Roberts, but we could some some other guys step up like corner Richard Crawford or a running back like Chris Thompson or Lache Seastrunk.
5. Will the coverage unit's improve?
-For as bad as the kick-offs and punts were last year, they were exploited even further, by a truly awful coverage team last year allowing 4 combined kick and punt returns and multiple other big returns that set up easy scores. Even if the punting and kick-off depth improves, it won't mean much if this unit continues to allow these types of back-breaking returns. The Redskins believe they have addressed the problem this offseason, but until we get to the regular season it won't be clear if they were successful or not.
6. Can the Redskins get through a season without any blocked punts or kicks?
-As if the Redskins special teams weren't bad enough, they've had to deal with far too many blocked punts, field goals and even extra points over the last 3 years. If a team has one blocked kick or punt a year it's considered a bad thing, the Redskins have had over 10 kicks or punts blocked over the last three seasons combined including 3 last year. With as weak of a special teams unit that the Redskins already have the last thing they can afford to do is allow these blocks. Last year it almost cost the Redskins 2 of their 3 wins. In week four Sav Rocca had a punt blocked that was recovered for a TD against the Raiders. This kept a Raiders team that was playing numerous back-ups to stay in the game, and be in a position to challenge the Redskins until late in the game. Later in the year against the Chargers, Kai Forbath saw two field goal attempts blocked in a game against the Chargers. If Forbath made both field goals, not only could the Chargers not have won the game on their final drive (The Redskins put up a goalline stand to force a game tying FG), but they couldn't have even tied it with a TD and 2 point conversion. Even if Forbath would have made one of the field goals it would have forced the Chargers to play for the win, which would have meant the Redskins weren't forced to go to Overtime.
7. Will the blocking on returns improve?
-The Redskins returners weren't the only players to fail in the returning game, too often they had to dodge defenders soon after catching the ball (in many cases they failed to do so). Good return units, set up nice lanes for their returners to run through and to cut back to, and that just hasn't been the case for the Redskins. While the returner has primary responsibility, his talent level will only go so far, the blocking needs to step up.
8. How will the new signings improve the special teams unit?
-The Redskins made a concerted effort this offseason to bolster their special teams unit, signing a number of linebackers who are known to be strong special teamers. In addition many of the Redskins street and college free agent signings were predicated on the players ability to contribute on special teams. While it could be a long shot for any of the street or college free agents to make the team, it's good to see the Redskins having the right focus here. The main boost to the special teams unit will come from how Adam Hayward, Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton perform this year.
9. Will any 2nd year guys step up on special teams?
-A big contributing factor to the failure of the Redskins special teams last year was the wholly lackluster performance from the Redskins rookie class. Typically teams rely on their rookie class to make a positive impact on their special teams, and bring in a fair amount of first year value. This is especially true for any defensive backs, linebackers, receivers and running backs, as they are the key special teams positions. The Redskins last year got major negative contributions from these guys on special teams and it cost them. Things didn't start out well as 4th round safety Phillip Thomas was lost for the year with injury during the preseason. Those players that were healthy didn't fare any better. Running back Chris Thompson was an embarrassment as a return man, while fellow 5th round LB Brandon Jenkins was so poor that he was inactive most weeks. Second round corner David Amerson had some struggles on coverage units, but even his issues paled in comparison to how poorly Bacarri Rambo played on special teams.The Redskins need these guys to step up their special teams play this season. When it comes to some of the later round guys like Thompson and Rambo, their roster spot could be on the line based on how they play on special teams.
10. Can any rookies make their presence felt on special teams?
-In addition to last year's guys stepping up the Redskins need this year's class to make their impact felt as well. Obviously 7th rounder Zach Hocker has already been talked about, but the rest of the class needs to step-up as well. The good news is both LB Trent Murphy and CB Bashaud Breeland have strong special teams reputations and both could make an early impact. Seventh round tight end Ted Bosler also has a special teams reputation, but he's not going to replace Niles Paul, so it could be tougher for him to make the team or be active on game days.