- - Monday, January 4, 2016

Specialists in the NFL are usually the least talked about players on the roster until they make a mistake. Sometimes they do, a lot of times they don’t. I decided to catch up with three guys that each bring a special skill to the Redskins roster and helped the team make the playoffs. Nick Sundberg is wrapping up his sixth NFL season, brought in by Mike Shanahan in 2010. He once played with a broken arm.

Tress Way joined the Redskins midway through the preseason in 2014 and is still going strong. Dustin Hopkins was the last of the three, replacing the most accurate field goal kicker in Redskins history after week one of this year and in controversial fashion.

Q: How would you describe your relationship with Tress who you have worked with for two years and Hopkins who you have been with for almost entire year?
NS: The three of us have a great relationship. They’re both young and full of questions so I just do my best to answer everything I can and make sure they’re prepared for every situation possible.”

Q: I know losing Kai Forbath was hard on you because of your friendship with him - has it made it more difficult to enjoy this?
NS: You never enjoy seeing a teammate and friend leave the organization. But it hasn’t taken away from enjoying the way we’re playing.”

Q: Can each one of you take me through your process when preparing for a field goal?
TW: So, I’m kind of jester of us three. You’ve got two kings – Nick and Hop have these crucial jobs and I’m the middle man and I know that holding it and gettng it there perfect for Hop is a big deal, but Nick gives me a great snap and Hop is so good that you just have to put it down and he’ll put it through. But for me I know that Nick before every game listens to Frank Sinatra’s “Nice and Easy” so I’ll remind him every time I go out to the field “Hey man, let’s go nice and easy. Let’s have some fun here.”

Actually before every field goal, Nick will turn around to Hop and I and he will say hey boys, let’s have some fun. And it’s just kind of cool because it’s like you look around and when it’s in the playoffs or we’re at Dallas you look around and it’s like we do this, this is what we do, let’s have some fun. Hopkins is one of the most focused and mentally tough guys I’ve been around and he’s locked in. He’s a sniper out there. Everybody handles it differently and ultimately we do a pre!y good job so we have to keep it going.”

NS: On every snap the process is the exact same. Consistency and routine are everything. I step up with my left foot first if we’re on the left hash, right foot first if on the right, look at Tress between my legs, grab the ball with my right hand, then left, take a deep breath, let it out, extend my arms, wait for Tress to put his hand up, then pull the trigger. I started telling the guys to have fun before every field goal a couple years ago because usually when you’re having fun, you’re playing you’re best and not thinking about anything. I play my best when I’m not thinking, just letting my body/muscle memory take over so maybe it’s a little more for me than them. But don’t tell them that. I listen to one song pregame and its Frank Sinatra Nice and Easy. I’ve got to stay about 80% so I sing that to myself all game. That’s where tress got the nice and easy from.”

DH: I’m preparing in the net to get a good swing so I can see what it looks like. I’m keeping up with down and yardage and where we are on the field. I do a brief prayer. I pray that good or bad he’ll be glorified. As I jog on the field, I take a dry swing. I find the line and I work on getting a spot. Tress and I work on the depth if we are not on the hash. As I’m taking my steps back, I’m thinking short and contact. Keeping my swing short and finding the sweet spot of the ball.”

Q: This is your second playoff game - how do the playoffs differ from the regular season in your eyes?
NS: Game-wise the playoffs aren’t any different than regular season games. The preparation, game planning, practice and the game itself are the same. The fact that if you lose you go home is the major difference. You have to make sure you’re at your best every play in the playoffs because every play could be a game changer.”

What’s more nerve-racking for you - a huge field goal attempt or a punt deeper in your own territory (ideally where punt is in end zone)
I don’t think any play is nerve-racking. When you’ve played multiple years you’ve been in about every situation there is to be in — nerves aren’t an issue. When you trust your abilities and are confident in what you do, no situation is too big.”

Q: Tress, this is your first NFL playoff game. How did you go about handling it?
TW: I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is watching a lot of the veterans handle the playoffs. Everybody knows it’s huge – it’s win or go home. That’s what it is and you have to play your best, but to be honest with you we try to play our best every weekend and right now we’re playing some pretty good football. I think just me personally I know I only get one down when I’m out there, I only get one punt at that point and then maybe another one or whatever happens the rest of the game and so I’m going to really follow the lead of the veterans. They are doing a great job keeping the locker room prepared and keeping it light. Everybody’s excited and honestly more than every nerves or anything else I’m really excited for this. This is going to be cool playing Aaron Rogers in the playoffs.”

Q: How has your game changed in the two season you have been here?
TW: I think honestly what made it easy – and it wasn’t necessarily a change – it was kind of mastering a craft a li!le bit more. Coach Ben has done an awesome job of encouraging me saying you do have a killer leg, but you can master that and you can work and do different things with the ball that will ultimately make you a top punter in the league for a lot of years. So whenever you have that mentality coming at you as a coach when it’s not like I need you to change this, but instead it’s you have a cannon for a leg but now let’s do this because this is going to make you even be!er. So it’s a lot easier to hear as a player when a coach is happy with you but also believes something in you that you can even go further to the next level. It’s year number two for me right now. It’s one of those when I’m very competitive with myself. I would like to master it tomorrow, but I think I’ve kind of learned some patience and I’ve learned to relax a little bit and ultimately to learn more about the game.”

Q: What’s more nerve-wracking – having guys coming afer you trying to block a punt or trying to get that snap down, the laces turned around, and making sure your component of the whole is what you’re supposed to be doing?
TW: For me, holding is so much easier because Nick does such a great job. Hop is not a picky kicker at all. He just likes it down and a little bit of tilt to it and he’ll put it through. For me if I had to pick the more nerve-wracking of the two - I do like the nerve-wracking situations for whatever reason. That’s how I’ve always kicked. I like that. But it’s something that gets your blood pumping whenever your team needs a big punt. For example, if there are two or three minutes left in the game, maybe we’re on our twenty or twenty-five yard line but we’re winning and we don’t want to give the other team a good set up, so we need a good ball. That’s when it’s like you play out the entire game but at that moment, this is when you need your good one. To me, that’s the one that trumps all.

Q: Dustin, what was the hardest part about replacing a guy who was pretty successful in Kai Forbath a week into the season?
DH: It had nothing to do with who I replaced. It didn’t affect me how I go about doing it. It had to do with learning how Nick and Tress operate. Tress had to adjust to me and how I like the ball, which is tilted. We were ready to go into Week 2. I was very fortunate that Nick slings the ball and Tress is a great holder.

Q: Do your teammates ignore you on the sidelines to not jinx you or anything?
DH: Before a kick, people don’t mess with me very much. Good or bad. There’s too many funny stigmas that surround kickers. They don’t really talk to me much. If a defense is on the field and our offense just started, if a field goal is not in our imminent future, I chat with the guys.

Q: How do you approach a kick-off? What are you thinking about?
DH: First, would be the distance because if I mess up on my direction, and it’s a touchback - we’re pleased with the kick. Distance, hang time, direction. Those are really the only things. I try to focus on staying in control in my first steps and building some speed. I want to hit the ball pure. The nature of the violent action that a kickoff is (different than a smooth kick for a field goal) makes it like a home run ball.

Q: How does your approach change on a tough surface (FedExField) or with poor weather conditions?
DH: I know for some kickers those external factors with the weather really bothers them. I can only control so many things. The weather or the conditions of the field are things I can’t control. I try to not put too much into them. Tress and I will try to find a spot to where my foot work is firm and I’ll relay that to Nick. I’ll obviously play the ball different depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Earlier in the season, in the hot weather - you can expect a little bit different result. You still aim for the same results, but if you are being realistic with yourself - you are not going to beat yourself up. You can only control so many things.

Q: How has Nick Sundberg helped you?
DH: He’s helped me professionally because of how proficient he is. Because he’s so good and he has a fast snap, it buys me time. I can see the ball a little longer between a 1.2 and 1.25 and the get-off is still the same. He’s made my life easier and bought me some time.

Q: What do you admire about Tress?
DH: Punting wise it’s fun to watch him perform. The thing I love about Tress is how serious he takes the holding job. Tress has such a great attitude for helping to facilitate putting points in the board when It’s not his main job. He’s in a similar spot as I am. We just feel very blessed. We’re still young players.

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