When was the last time the Washington Redskins had a placekicker? Last year. Okay, maybe I should rephrase the question. How long has it been since the Redskins had a clutch placekicker secured on their depth chart to assume responsibility of kickoffs, demanding field goal attempts and PATs? Can’t remember, can you? It’s been a while. Too long, in fact. The lingering absence of which has left new head coach Jay Gruden just a little unsettled. It should. Clutch special teams play at an impeccable juncture during the course of a gridiron battle can be the determining factor between a ‘W’ and an ‘L’ — and conceivably a postseason berth.
It would seem the Redskins’ skipper was thinking the exact same thing. During last April’s NFL Draft, Gruden set his sites on Arkansas placekicking marksman Zach Hocker, rolled the dice and pulled the trigger. The unforeseen strategic gridiron maneuver might be viewed by some as questionable and subjectively a blown selection by the club. But it’s not necessarily a gamble.
Kai Forbath has proven to be an accurate field goal kicker, “connecting on a league-leading 94.4 percent of his attempts in 2012 and finishing the 2013 campaign with 13 straight made field goals,” per CSN Washington.com. “But last season he ranked in the bottom third among all NFL kickers in touchbacks, which did not help the Redskins’ struggling special teams unit.”
Hence Gruden’s incentive to draft another placekicker, add a little flavor to the offseason competition and make personnel matters in the kicking game interesting. The Redskins head coach is, in essence, dispatching a memo that should be short, sweet and fairly elementary to read: Despite Forbath’s near flawless field goal percentage last season, he is by no means non-expendable. From the looks of things, Gruden fully intends to anchor a foreboding and respectable kicking game this season. The blooming head coach is on his way. So much for a short memo, but you get the point.
Hocker has fielded the pressure of impressing coaches during minicamp effortlessly. Disregarding his freshman status in the league, the Arkansas product flashed power and precision, nailing five of his six field goal attempts Saturday’s rookie minicamp practice at Redskins Park. The former soccer player also exhibited considerable power on his kickoffs, routinely “sending several deep balls into the end zone and a couple through it,” per CSN Washington.com.
Last season Hocker connected on 13 of his 15 field goal attempts for the Razorbacks, the longest of which he powered through the uprights from 54 yards out. What particularly impressed the Redskins was the hang time and distance on his kickoffs. Hocker boomed 50 kickoffs last season with minimal effort — 34 resulted in touchbacks.
“He’s a very good kicker,” Gruden said of Hocker. “A very good college kicker. The rookie kickers in the NFL, not many of them have a lot of success, but we have high hopes for him. We’re going to have competition at every position, and kicker is no different. We’ll see how he responds to the pressure.”
If he’s everything he’s advertised to be, Hocker will make the return game and special teams play very difficult — if not downright frustrating — for rival units. The factor of field position in the NFL through the leverage of polished and disciplined special teams play is absolutely critical. Hocker will immediately vie to secure a roster spot and his placekicking proficiency will make GM Bruce Allen‘s task of conceivably cutting the rookie before the Redskins’ season opener very taxing.