The Redskins stayed consistent with their trio of special teamers and managed through a midseason injury to Dustin Hopkins with another strong year across the board.
As the Redskins head into the offseason looking to get back to their winning ways, Redskins.com will provide position-by-position reflections from the 2017 squad.
Up next: Specialists.
REVIEW OF THE UNIT:
The Redskins made continuity a priority last offseason when they signed longsnapper Nick Sundberg to a contract extension before he was set to become a free agent. The contract took a short time to work out but showed a commitment to the standard of excellence and consistency the team has had with their specialists over recent years.
Thus, Washington entered the 2017 season with the same trio as the year before – Sundberg, punter Tress Way and kicker Dustin Hopkins – looking to build off the previous season. While the special teams unit as a whole struggled to find any electric and game-changing plays, the three maintained a strong level of play even with a midseason injury hiccup.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins entered training camp without any competition and began the season strong, making 9-of-11 field goals and 12-of-13 extra points in his first five games. But after Hopkins underwent an MRI following the team's victory over San Francisco, it was determined he strained his right hip rotator muscle and was promptly placed on Injured Reserve.
"I had initially hurt it during the Kansas City game," Hopkins said. "And then I don't think we realized the extent of what the injury was. And then played in the San Fran game, just kind of made it worse. And then after that point it was like 'hey, we need to bring somebody in, I can't go.'"
To take his place, the team signed kicker Nick Rose, who had never played in an NFL game before. The University of Texas product had spent previous time with the 49ers in the offseason and appeared in four preseason games but was waived before the season.
Starting his first professional game on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia, Rose was perfect on one field goal attempt and three extra points, signaling the start of a formidable year. He played the next seven games and made 10-of-11 field goals and 18-of-20 extra points. The Redskins waived him following their loss to the Chargers and re-activated Hopkins for the final three games of the season.
Hopkins finished his season making 5-of-6 field goals and 6-of-6 extra points and didn't allow any touchdowns on kick returns.
"Nick's done a great job, testament to him coming in and taking care of business and from the first week, getting the timing right with these guys," Hopkins said upon his return. "He's done a great job. So, it's been good to see him just do really well for the team."
For Way, 2017 was markedly different in terms of his use. After punting a career-low 49 times in 2016, the Oklahoma product punted a record-high 83 times for 3,239 net yards this past year.
He allowed one punt return for a touchdown against the Cowboys, but had his best season by far pinning opponents deep in their own territory. Way landed 33 punts inside the 20-yard line, 11 higher than his previous record during the 2014 season.
"You can only control what you can control and hope for the best," Way said of the season. "I think it'll add to the anticipation of next year, just within the locker room. I'm sure the fans will be fired up, I'm sure everybody will be excited, but I can tell you that in this locker room, that anticipation will carry over into next year, because we really felt like we were rolling. We went on the road to beat the Rams and Raiders, should've got the Chiefs. It's just tough."
Sundberg stayed healthy the entire season and the team named him its Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable work. Specifically, that included a project he worked on with the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation called "Loads of Love," a new initiative that provides washers and dryers to schools in Prince George's County and youth shelters in Washington, D.C.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GROUP:
Both Sundberg and Way will return next year for the Redskins with the only question mark being kicker Dustin Hopkins, who is entering free agency for the first time in Washington.
Hopkins' status seemed more unclear as Rose performed well in the middle of the year, but the fact that the team brought Hopkins back for the final three games would seem to suggest that they'd like to re-sign him.
In terms of other special team contributors, the Redskins may look to find someone new to return punts and ultimately replace wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who has held the role since his rookie season in 2015. On 27 returns this year, Crowder averaged 6.3 yards and fumbled five times without any touchdowns.
The Redskins did re-sign Quinton Dunbar, who was a big special teams contributor, as was linebacker Chris Carter, who enters free agency after his first year in Washington.
SEASON IN REVIEW