- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2016

Dustin Hopkins hadn’t missed an extra-point attempt since his freshman year at Florida State. It ate him up inside when he missed one in the Washington Redskins‘ 35-18 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round — his second blown attempt in three weeks.

Hopkins missed one against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16 during the Redskins‘ NFC East-clinching win.

Like many kickers across the league, Hopkins felt the affect of a new rule change this year, which bumped the kick back 13 yards to the 15-yard line, making extra points a 33-yard attempt.

During the regular season, kickers missed 66 extra-point attempts, a staggering increase from the eight that were missed in 2014.

“When you don’t hit the ball you want, I will say, those two kicks would have been good from the shorter distance,” Hopkins said. “Obviously, it changes things.”

The missed attempts didn’t cut nearly as deep as the Redskins‘ playoff loss, but like many of his teammates, Hopkins is finding the positives in a disappointing end to the season. After all, it was just four months ago he was kicking field goals in a suburban park in New Orleans to stay sharp after the New Orleans Saints cut him on Sept. 5.

With his wife, Gabrielle, serving as his holder, Hopkins practiced until the Redskins signed him on Sept. 14 after they cut Kai Forbath, who was in his fourth season with the team.

“I’ve thought about it a couple times this year and I’m glad you brought it up because it makes times when you’re employed with a team, makes the disappointment of a first-round loss a little better knowing where you’ve been,” Hopkins said. “I know it’s cliche, but I feel really blessed. I was kicking in a park 17, 18 weeks ago.”

More importantly, did Gabrielle trust that he wouldn’t kick her fingers?

“It was a marriage-building exercise, a trust exercise,” Hopkins joked. “She was excited, she wanted to be a part of the training.”

When first-year general manager Scot McCloughan is praised for his ability to find talent on the streets to plug key holes on the roster, the names of cornerback Will Blackmon, inside linebacker Mason Foster and running back Pierre Thomas tend to come to mind. Run down the list and tight end Alex Smith and cornerback Cary Williams jump out, too.

Perhaps because it was way back in Week 2 or because kickers tend to fade into the background when they’re doing their job right, it’s easy to forget Hopkins wasn’t a part of this team since training camp.

The Redskins cut Forbath after the season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins — one of the earliest showings of McCloughan and the team’s serious commitment to winning. When the move was made, coach Jay Gruden said the team decided to make a change because of Forbath’s inability to regularly produce kickoffs.

Hopkins nearly tripled Forbath’s production, kicking 52 touchbacks compared to Forbath’s 18 in 2014. It wasn’t just the rookie’s leg strength that impressed the Redskins, but also his poise in critical situations.

In Week 5, Hopkins made a 52-yard field goal to force overtime against the Atlanta Falcons. He converted a 47-yarder against the Chicago Bears to give the Redskins a 24-21 lead with 14:12 to play in the fourth quarter, which would hold for the team’s first road win of the season.

Hopkins made 25 of his 28 field-goal attempts in the regular season and a 25-yarder against the Packers.

“A lot of times not getting nervous is not thought about, but when you have guys like him who just go out there, do their job and don’t worry about the external things and nothing gets in their head, it’s tough to do consistently,” long snapper Nick Sundberg said. “To do it once, OK, but to do it every time, I tip my hat.”

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