Kai Forbath had everything to prove.
Forget that he won the Lou Groza Award as the NCAA’s top kicker while at UCLA. That meant little as he went undrafted and into the murky waters of a locked-out NFL.
It became even harder when Forbath strained his right quadriceps muscle during last year’s lockout. Healthy this fall, he got a chance with the Washington Redskins, a team known for its revolving door of kickers. So far, he’s 9-for-9 on field goals, justifying the decision to pick the rookie over other veterans.
“[If he goes] 0-for-4, it makes you look kind of silly,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “But when a guy comes through like he has, you’re just glad he took advantage of that opportunity and you’re glad he’s on our football team.”
Forbath’s field goal perfection is one of the few bright spots this season. Maybe, just maybe, the Redskins have found a long-term solution at kicker.
But it’s not like the Redskins were the first team to see potential in the 25-year-old. That honor goes to their Thanksgiving Day opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, who signed Forbath when he was injured and paid him even when the injury didn’t improve.
“They kept me when I was hurt. It was a nice thing they did,” Forbath said. “Most rookie kickers don’t get kept when they’re injured.”
But most rookie kickers don’t have Forbath’s pedigree. He made 90.3 percent of his kicks during his junior year in college and was well worth the risk for the Cowboys, at least as an insurance policy for Dan Bailey.
“We really liked him. We liked him coming out of school, and we really value that position,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “At the time we kept Kai, Dan Bailey hadn’t really done anything yet. He, too, was a rookie. So Kai, for the most part with us, was hurt and we didn’t see that much of him. But we really liked what we saw coming out of UCLA, and we felt like he could be an outstanding kicker.”
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw the potential, too, bringing in Forbath for insurance if restricted free agent kicker Connor Barth didn’t pan out. When Barth succeeded, Forbath was out on the street.
“It’s nice hearing that teams think you have talent,” Forbath said. “It’s just being at the right team at the right time where there’s an opportunity available.”
For much of the past decade-plus, there has been an opportunity to improve the kicking position in Washington. Since 2000, 14 kickers before Forbath attempted a field goal. That includes Graham Gano, cut during the preseason, and his replacement, Billy Cundiff, who went 7-for-12 before being released.
Still, Forbath had to beat out veterans Josh Brown and Olindo Mare to win the Redskins gig.
“I always take a look at those other couple kickers, and they’ve been cut for a reason. I’m not sure why,” Shanahan said. “[Forbath] was a guy that nobody really even talked about. You watched him kick, and he won it legitimately against two other veterans that have been in the NFL for a long time. Usually when you handle pressure, it transfers over to game situations.”
In those instances, Forbath couldn’t do better. But there’s a catch: He’s not really a kickoff specialist, having not done it in college. Unlike Cundiff, Forbath can’t just boom the ball through the end zone for touchbacks.
“He still has to gain a lot of experience. The more kicks, the better he’ll get. He’s going to be inconsistent because it’s really his first year ever doing it,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. “But he’s developing, and he’s going to continue to get better with it.”
Forbath is focused on improving kickoffs. There’s not much more he can work on with field goals other than staying the course, so he’s trying to perfect the process on hang time, distance and ball placement.
“You can’t survive in the league just kicking field goals unless you’re on a team that the punter does it,” Forbath said. “But that’s not the situation here, so I know I need to improve on that.”
But does he really? Unless his kickoffs are returned for touchdowns, it’s hard to imagine Forbath getting the boot from the Redskins if he keeps connecting on field goals.
“The most important thing is that he’s kicking field goals and making points,” Alexander said. “That’s what we really need him at.”
So far so good in that regard. And where others have had problems, Forbath is making the best of his opportunity.
“I think it’s just trusting what I’ve been doing on the practice field and all my training and not trying to do anything different when it comes to a game,” he said. Just hitting it the same.”“