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Redskins' Kotwica is hopeful of a special teams turnaround in '15

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Redskins' Kotwica is hopeful of a special teams turnaround in '15

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.  

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Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

With NFL RedZone, All-22 footage and GamePass, it’s literally never been easier to access information about your favorite teams and players. Still, nothing can quite beat the actual players and coaches, especially those who drew up those plays in the first place.

Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was happy to share some insight on the touchdown pass Alex Smith threw to Vernon Davis to kick off the scoring against the Panthers in Week 6. 

The Redskins took over possession after a Carolina turnover, and the offense was ready to strike quickly. Smith found Davis wide open in the end zone and connected with his longtime tight end to give the ‘Skins an early 7-0 lead.

Interestingly, as Cavanaugh points out, the play was designed to clear out space for the team’s top tight end, Jordan Reed. Instead, the Panthers safety rolled towards Reed, who is generally seen as the more likely receiving threat. You can see in the video of the play that Smith does look towards Reed first, and then noticed the rolling safety leaving Davis wide open down the seam.

Cavanaugh also emphasizes how vital it is for the offense to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“When we’re not on the field and the defense creates a turnover and all of a sudden we’re back out there, we gotta be ready to score, particularly when we get the ball in that great field position. It’s huge, it obviously set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”

A one play, 22-yard drive certainly does show off an offensive unit ready to score quickly and without the benefit of a long possession to get into rhythm.

Hopefully Cavanaugh doesn’t give away too many of his X’s and O’s secrets, but it’s always fascinating to experience a behind-the-scenes look at important plays. It’s even more fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns, and it’s the most fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns that come in Redskins victories.

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'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

Zach Brown is a fearless player. Turns out, Zach Brown's dad is pretty fearless, too.

That first statement is one you can confirm by watching the Redskins linebacker play each time he takes the field, often times hurt.

The second statement, on the other hand, was confirmed earlier this week in an interview between Brown and JP Finlay about the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

"It got under our skin, knowing we got swept by them [last year]," the defender told Finlay after a weekday practice. "You just hate to go back home and hear them talk so much trash."

The leader of the brave "them" who actually taunt a 250-pound LB following a loss? Oh, just Brown's father, who's a diehard Cowboys supporter.

"My dad was giving it to me," he said while looking back on the 2017 season. "I said, 'Don't worry about it. Next year's gonna be a different movement.'"

"I'm gonna talk trash at the end of this season," Brown added. "It's a house divided."

Adrian Peterson knows what Brown's talking about. The Texas native even went as far as to break down exactly how his own house is divided.

According to him, 75-percent of his family are all about the Cowboys, 10-percent are looking for him to put up good numbers in a 'Boys victory and the final 15-percent have converted to the burgundy and gold.

Rookie corner Greg Stroman can relate as well. The Virginia kid who'll be making his debut in the series he's very familiar with said his grandma and her relatives fall on both sides of the matchup.

Stroman does have one advantage over Brown and Peterson, though. Unlike the two veterans, he was able to get his entire family's rooting interests in order for Sunday, at least.

"They all bought in now," he said.

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