Unlike many position battles, there is no fallback, no second string when kickers compete. Despite that, they find the most support from within their ranks.
“Kickers are like a little community,” said Kai Forbath, the Redskins’ incumbent placekicker. “We’re all friends and we don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, I hope he fails.’ We want each other to do well.”
That kickers approach their work differently is understood among their teammates.
“The thing that’s unique about kickers is that they compete against themselves,” said Logan Paulsen, who played at UCLA with Forbath. “What they do is all predicated on them. There are no outside forces at work.”
Hocker has quickly found his place among the kicking community.
“So far things have been great as far as [the other kickers] taking me in,” Hocker said. “I’m playing the rookie role, and they’ve taken me under their wing and shown me around. It’s not a competition. We’re just doing the best we can.”
Hocker is the leading scorer in University of Arkansas history. He made 61 of 79 career field goal attempts, including 13 of 15 as a senior. He was especially adept at touchbacks, as 34 of his 50 kickoffs last season were not returned. The Redskins’ kickoff coverage unit was 10th in the NFL in 2013 — the only aspect of the special teams that was not among the league’s worst — but Forbath’s 14 touchbacks were among the worst in the league. It is possible the Redskins could keep both placekickers and employ Hocker solely for kickoffs.
Forbath got his shot with the Redskins by winning the competition to succeed Billy Cundiff in October of 2012. He went on to make 17 of 18 field goal attempts that season. Last year, a sputtering offense limited his opportunities and he finished 18 for 22.
Forbath’s success in Washington came after unsuccessful attempts to make rosters in Dallas and Tampa Bay. It’s a story not uncommon to kickers and one which the fourth-year player has had no trouble sharing.
“We’ve talked about the path I took to get here,” Forbath said. “Our punters have done the same thing. We all talk about it. Sometimes you go from team to team until you stick somewhere.”
Malone and Clingan are trying to stick in Washington as the successor to Sav Rocca, whose net punting average of 33.8 yards in 2013 was last in the league. Malone has punted for the Buccaneers (2010) and Jets (2013), while Clingan has yet to record a punt in a regular-season game.
“They’re hitting the ball well. It’s a good battle,” said Forbath, who generated plenty of laughter by adding after a short pause that, “I only care about the holds.”
Personnel changes also include the signing of special-teams standout Adam Hayward on the first day of free agency and the presence of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has returned punts throughout his career. But the biggest difference has been the influence of first-year special teams coordinator Ben Kotwicka.
Kotwicka is a decorated former soldier who was hired to take over after one season in the same role with the Jets.