Add seventh round draft pick Zach Hocker, a kicker out of Arkansas, to the list of prospects who made a good first impression on Redskins head coach Jay Gruden over the weekend.
Hocker connected on five of his six field goal attempts during Saturday’s rookie minicamp practice at Redskins Park. The former soccer player also showed his considerable leg strength on kickoffs, sending several balls deep into the end zone and a couple through it.
“He’s a very good kicker, a very good college kicker,” Gruden said. “The rookie kickers in the NFL, not many of them have had a lot of success, but we have very high hopes for him. We’re going to have competition at every position, and kicker is no different. We’ll see how things go and how things transpire in the preseason, how he handles the pressure. Only times will tell in that regard.”
Last season, Hocker made 13 of his 15 field goal attempts for the Razorbacks, the longest of which came from 54 yards out. But what caught the Redskins’ attention was the hang time and distance of his kickoffs. Indeed, 34 of his 50 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
Forbath, on the other hand, has proven to be an accurate and clutch field goal kicker, connecting a league-leading 94.4-percent of his attempts in 2012 and finishing the 2013 campaign with 13 straight made field goals. But last season he ranked in the bottom third among all NFL kickers in touchbacks, which did not help the Redskins’ struggling special teams unit.
“We have a good field goal kicker here [in Kai Forbath], but the ability [Hocker] has with that strong leg, that’s an added dimension for kickoffs,” Gruden said. “And touchbacks are very, very important.”
Hocker said he was hoping to be drafted, but was also prepared to sign somewhere as a college free agent.
“I was praying for the best,” he said. “I knew I was going to end up where God wanted me to. But anxiety was kicking in as we approaching the end of the draft. I [figured] I was going to end up at least on a free agent deal somewhere. But fortunately enough, I got a call from the Redskins, and it was a very good moment.”
Hocker added: “Forbath is an incredible kicker and I have the utmost respect for him. I’m just going to come in and compete. Just to get the opportunity to play in the NFL is more than I could ever imagine. This is a great opportunity and I’m very thankful for it.”
Hocker, a 6 foot, 189-pound native of Arkansas, grew up playing soccer and accepted a scholarship offer to play at Missouri State. But he joined the football team as a junior and had a strong season. Soon after that, he dedicated himself to kicking.
“I played soccer for 14 years, so I have a lot of leg [strength] and leg speed built up from those years,” he said. “Luckily enough, I was able to transition that over to kicking a football.”
“From there on out, I just focused on football,” he continued before cracking, “And the scholarship was a lot better. So it all paid off.”