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Dustin Hopkins Honing His Kickoff Skills With New Touchback Rule


During Wednesday's special teams only practice, kicker Dustin Hopkins showed off his accuracy and experimented with some different kinds of kickoffs.

The Redskins' special teams only practice on Wednesday afternoon allowed kicker Dustin Hopkins the chance to start -- instead of finish -- practice by kicking field goals and focus on his leg for an entire session. It also allowed the team's veterans to give him some light ribbing.

"Kedric Golston was giving me a hard time," Hopkins said. "He was like 'Oh you got a little work today, you got to show up early and get prepared.' So the guys are giving me the business, but it's fun."

It certainly was for Hopkins. He connected on 8-of-9 field goals, including a 63-yarder with plenty of room to spare, though afterward he cared not to comment on his career long because all of his kicks are "so dependent on the weather."

Field goal accuracy and distance haven't been too much of problem in Hopkins' young career in the NFL, which is why coaches mostly used Wednesday's practice to harp on kickoffs and returns in light of the NFL's new touchback rule.

With the league pushing the touchback to the 25-yard line, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden acknowledged that he and his staff would experiment with Hopkins' ability to pooch the ball downfield instead of always blasting kicks to the back of the end zone, as Hopkins became wont to do last season.

"We're going to try some of the pooch stuff and try to pin them back," Gruden said. "You know, we don't want to just succumb to the 25-yard line. He's got a powerful leg and one of the reasons he's here is because of his leg strength and kicking the ball off through the end zone.  But he can get the height and pin people back to the one if we get them tackled inside the 20. That can be another great option for us. So, we're going to explore all different options. We haven't obviously decided on one yet but that'll be determined later once we see what he can and can't do."

The Washington Redskins conducted their sixth day of training camp practice Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.

Hopkins had already experimented with the kick during OTAs and minicamp, but needed Wednesday to help him find some comfort with repetitions he doesn't normally have each day. Hopkins believed Wednesday went well and hopes to get better to provide his coaches with as many options as possible before the regular season.

"You don't have to be quite as precise as putting the ball in the hole [referencing golf], but as long as you get it within that area like dropping in a big pool and trying to get it in a certain area and playing the ball with the wind accordingly," Hopkins said.

The rule change is another conscious effort by the league to help reduce injuries, the majority of which come during kickoffs. By moving the touchback up to the 25-yard line, the hope is that more returners will be less willing to try to run out a kick from the end zone.

That is, unless, more kickers begin pooching the ball ahead of the goal line. Gruden, however, sees the writing on the wall for the play's existence.

"It's been an exciting part of football for a long time," Gruden said. "It'd be unfortunate if it were to be dismissed from football in my opinion. But, my opinion doesn't really matter. I think it's an exciting part of the game and something that's very important to the game."

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