Ben Kotwica says he’s optimistic about the Redskins' special teams as he enters his second season as unit coordinator.
For one, the returning players have a greater comfort level with his schemes, allowing them to focus more details and less on terminology. Two, he likes the potential he sees in this year’s draft class. And three, his punter’s got one of the strongest legs in the league.
“A lot of the terminology is familiar to a lot of the guys, so you don’t have to have to spend as much time on the introductory level stuff, in whatever phase,” Kotwica said. “And so you can now get to the graduate-level stuff, as far alignment and technique and responsibility and getting more into the weeds of what you’re trying to do.”
Kotwica made his comments last week at the conclusion of the team's offseason program, which provides assistants like himself a prime opportunity to reinforce fundamentals.
“You have to understand the time constraints [because] when you get into the [regular] season, it’s a lot of group work and a lot of team [practice],” he said. “So what we’ve emphasized more here in the spring is more individual training, getting down to the blocking and tackling.”
The names of the Redskins’ core special teamers should sound familiar. In fact, eight of the top-10 tacklers from last season are back, including Trenton Robinson, Niles Paul, Akeem Davis and unit captain Adam Hayward, who has returned from a leg injury that forced him to miss the final five games.
“Any time you lose a great player like Adam Hayward,” Kotwica said of his units' sluggish finish in 2014, “it’s going to take a bit of a toll on your unit.”
Hayward’s production and leadership are expected to provide a big boost. But so, too, are the additions of safety Jeron Johnson as well as rookies Preston Smith, Jamison Crowder, Martrell Spaight, Kyshoen Jarrett and Evan Spencer.
Last season in Seattle, Johnson finished tied for the lead in special teams tackles with nine. He also had a fumble recovery.
Crowder, meantime, is vying to replace Andre Roberts as Redskins’ punt returner this season.
“J.J. is a good player and has been very receptive to what we’re doing,” Kotwica said, referring to Johnson. “He works hard and I’m encouraged for what he’s going to do for us this year.”
He added: “It’s still early, but I’ve been encouraged. I like the guys that we’ve brought in, not only from what we’ve seen on the field but off the field, as well. The returner, Crowder, has done a nice job of catching the ball. Martrell Spaight has done a really good job. Preston Smith, too. They’ve all contributed. They’ve got the right mindset. So I’m excited to see how that all pans out in 2015.”
Kotwica is also excited about punter Tress Way, who, as a rookie, tied for the league lead in average yards per punt (47.5).
“That’s one of the qualities that he’s got; he’s got a big leg,” Kotwica said. “One of the things that we have to be cautious about—and he knows it—is out-kicking the coverage because he does have such a big leg. We were here the other day, downwind, and he hit one 70-something yards in the air, with over 5 seconds of hangtime. So he’s got that ability. We just have to harness that.”
It's going to be a important season for Kotwica, as well. First-year GM Scot McCloughan retained most of his core players, signed Johnson and targeted special teams help in the draft. Indeed, the pressure will be on Kotwica and his special teams units to take the next step this fall.