Football Team

Add kicker to list of things being mismanaged by Washington

Football Team

Ron Rivera's handling of Washington's kicking situation resembles the result of a lot of the team's kicks from this season: No good.

When meeting with the media on Monday, Rivera told reporters that he intends to keep Chris Blewitt on the roster "for now." He made that claim despite Blewitt's performance over the last two games, where a trio of his field goals have failed to even clear the line of scrimmage.

"Kickers are hard to find, consistent kickers are even harder to find," Rivera said over Zoom. "Guys that have had success in this league are on teams."

On the list of things that the franchise has mishandled during Rivera's tenure — a lot of which hasn't fallen within his purview, to be fair — this aspect of special teams wouldn't be mentioned until after the intermission that would be required during the reading of such a protracted list. 

But just because so much else about the Burgundy and Gold is disappointing doesn't mean this particular botch should be overlooked. Its origins trace all the way back to training camp, too.

Dustin Hopkins, who held the position in Washington dating back to 2015, faced no competition heading into camp. That remained the case even as the veteran missed two attempts in the preseason opener and hit an ugly ball on a deep field goal the following week.

To Rivera, those problems were as much about the overall operation from snap to hold to contact as they were about one guy.

 

Hopkins proceeded to settle in somewhat once the regular season commenced before failing to convert on two extra points in Week 4 versus the Falcons. Yet Rivera backed the 31-year-old after that outing as he had in all previous exchanges about possibly making a change.

Then he eventually made the change anyway.

Though Hopkins went on to hit seven of his next eight kicks — five out of six field goals and both PATs — and largely respond to what happened in Atlanta, Rivera chose to release him after Week 6's contest against the Chiefs.

"There were a couple opportunities that we had, opportunities to score and we didn’t, and you'd like to be more consistent that way," Rivera said of his decision. 

So, the coach opted to let Hopkins enter the year as the without-a-doubt starter, was patient during the early bumps, backed Hopkins after his nadir, watched Hopkins battle back — and then got rid of him.

Of all the ways Rivera could've handled that, the strategy he landed on could best be described as odd and alternatively be labeled as simply scrambling to appease a fan base that was desperate for some sort of lineup adjustment.

Yet as clunky as all of that was, Rivera's plan post-Hopkins was downright confusing.

It's true that picking through the kicker free-agent market is about as fun as searching through a yard sale's offerings during a monsoon, but still, trusting Blewitt to be Hopkins' replacement was questioned from the beginning, considering he had never suited up in the NFL and last wore a uniform for the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. And it's only gotten worse from there.

In Green Bay, Blewitt's first try of the afternoon was blocked.

In Denver, Blewitt's first try of the afternoon was... also blocked (by his own lineman's helmet).

Later on, his third try of the afternoon was...................ALSO blocked. 

Rivera offered his assessment on Monday as to why Blewitt is failing to elevate his kicks.

"On the first one, he hit it a little bit too high in the middle of the ball and hit a low one," Rivera said. "The second one, there is a little bit of penetration. If we don't give up the penetration, the ball probably clears. But again, he hit those two that were tipped a little bit in the middle of the ball as opposed to staying under it.

"The leg strength is there, the accuracy is there, the unfortunate thing is when he gets wound up and jacked up, he goes out there and tries to crush the ball."

Now, when Blewitt has managed to use proper mechanics, he's done well; he cashed in a 45-yarder against the Packers and drilled a 52-yarder on Sunday in the meeting with the Broncos.

However, it can't be emphasized enough that, moving forward, Washington will have to worry about whether their specialist can do one of the most basic parts of his job, let alone actually deliver points.

 

"It's just part of, unfortunately, the growing pains that we're going to go through," Rivera said about Blewitt.

Refusing to move on from Blewitt feels both reckless and stubborn, and that's on top of the strange dealings with Hopkins. Growing pains are understandable — especially with an organization as lost as this one — but when they're self-inflicted growing pains, that's when the sting is hard to ignore.