When a new coach takes over a football team, many players feel they have to prove themselves all over again. For Redskins kicker Kai Forbath, that pressure mounted as Jay Gruden became coach of the Redskins and the team promptly selected a rookie kicker in the 2014 NFL Draft. Forbath's success as an accurate field goal kicker came under Mike Shanahan, and his shorter kickoffs have been an issue most of his two years with Washington.
On Thursday night, with a very public battle brewing between Forbath and rookie Zach Hocker, the incumbent did himself no favors. Forbath missed a 46-yard field goal, and compounded his problem by sending a kickoff out of bounds.
"Not my best game, by far," Forbath said Thursday night. Visibly frustrated, the veteran knew to move one from the performance against New England and look for the next opportunity.
"First game, got the miss out of the way though. That’s how I look at it," Forbath said. "I can only improve from here."
The rookie Hocker made both of his field goal attempts, but struggled to kick the ball out of the end zone. Strong kickoffs were part of the allure for the Redskins to draft Hocker as Forbath does not have the strongest leg off the tee.
Hocker did turn some heads with a solid open field tackle during a kickoff return. The rookie showed good form on the tackle, enough that the veterans congratulated the rookie on the sideline. But Hocker is in Washington to boom kicks, not make tackles.
"The hangtime was OK, the tackle was cool, but one touchback out of three kickoffs [isn't] going to cut it if I'm going to try to make this team," Hocker said. "That was the main reason I was brought in to compete."
The Redskins coach commented on the kicking situation after the game, and it seemed he scored the first round of competition for Hocker.
"We kicked off one time out of bounds and missed the field goal," Gruden said. "Zach had a great couple good kickoffs and a good tackle and made a field goal. Kai, you know, he had a kickoff out of bounds like I said, so that’s a decision that’s going to come after the fourth preseason game."
Forbath knows the pressure of competing for his job; this is not the first time the Redskins have pushed him. In his two year career with the 'Skins, Forbath has made more than 87 percent of his field goal attempts. He impressed his first season with Washington, making 94 percent of field goals as the RG3-led Redskins made a playoff run. But last season, that percentage dropped to nearly 82 percent.
And there remains the problem of kickoffs for Forbath.
Washington must improve its special teams kick coverage, and one way of doing that is with more touchbacks on kickoffs. Forbath said he worked on kickoffs throughout the offseason, yet what stood out Thursday was the kickoff that went out of bounds, setting the Patriots up with the ball at the 40-yard-line.
"Unfortunately I tried to kick one of them a little bit too hard tonight and got around on it," Forbath said. "We were trying to directional it. That’s what this is for, working on those. The more you do kickoffs the better you get."
Kicking in the NFL is a tough position; good things are the expectation, and misses and shanks are what gets talked about. On the first preseason game of 2014, Hocker outplayed Forbath, but the veteran knows he has shown what he can do in the past, and will have more opportunities this preseason.
"If you look at the history of actual season kicks the percentage has been pretty good," Forbath said. "I believe that was my first miss in preseason in two years. They happen, I'm glad I got it out of the way before the actual season started. I'll just keep working."