Adding a kicking consultant may not be a bad idea for the Washington Redskins.
From head coach Ron Rivera to coaching intern Jennifer King, 25 men and women will be charged with molding this year’s Redskins’ roster into a competitive team. Twenty of them are new to the team this year, brought in by Rivera as part of a complete overhaul of the coaching staff. These coaches will have an enormous impact on the team’s success in 2020.
We can and will evaluate them as the season progresses, but for now, I want to talk about one move Rivera chose not to make. He did not hire a kicking consultant.
I understand why he didn’t. I mean, when you run down the list of needs after 2019’s disastrous 3-13 showing, the kicking game components are the least of your worries. Punter Tress Way made the Pro-Bowl, while kicker Dustin Hopkins was generally solid, finishing just above the median in terms of kicking percentage. Long snapper Nick Sundberg and holder Way have been a reliable tandem for several years now. Is there really any need to bring in someone specifically to work with these players?
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Yes, there is. Though the need is perhaps not as obvious as it may be with other teams. (Looking at you, New York Jets.)
One of the five holdovers from last year’s coaching staff is special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor. Kaczor took over a struggling unit and improved it last year. The kicking itself wasn’t a major issue, as Way was quite good in 2018, and Hopkins actually recovered from a difficult, injury-plagued 2017 to have one of perhaps his best year. But the coverage and return teams left a lot to be desired.
Those units are one of the hidden casualties of poor player personnel decisions. A consistent lack of productivity throughout all rounds of the draft leads to a dearth of special teams talent throughout an entire roster. Such things are hard to fix quickly. The effects are cumulative and expand over time. Better draft classes over the past few seasons should reverse that trend regardless of coaching.
But coaching does help, and Kaczor did a respectable job. This season, he will have Ben Jacobs joining him as an assistant. Jacobs is a classic teams guy, who managed to stick in the league for eight seasons (the last six in Carolina under Rivera) entirely based on his special teams play. After a year of assisting in Carolina, Rivera has brought him along and he will likely have a positive effect on coverage and return teams.
But it is likely he will not have much impact on the kicking game. That is where a dedicated kicking coach or consultant comes into play.