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With New Touchback Rule, Dustin Hopkins May Mix Up Kickoffs

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The touchback was moved to the 25-yard line this year, and that means there might be some new kickoff strategies for NFL placekickers.

In March, the NFL impacted placekickers for the second straight offseason when they passed a rule that will move the touchback after kickoffs to the 25-yard line, a determination based on the increasing amount of injuries during that specific play last year.

For kickers who have particularly powerful legs, this comes as a potential affront. The extra five yards now given to opposing teams may force head coaches to reconsider letting their specialists boot the ball out of the end zone, in the hopes their special teams unit will prevent a returner from gaining the extra five yards upfield.

Count Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins part of the group that may be tinkering with coaches on a new strategy. In 15 games with the Redskins last season, Hopkins had 52 kickoffs go for touchbacks, good for seventh in the league. But that statistic might not be as important anymore as teams determine different methods – like kicking the ball up high – to prevent lengthy returns, or at least ones that don't eclipse the 25-yard line.

"I'm going to do what I'm told on kickoffs, or try to," Hopkins said after OTAs on Wednesday. "I can't speak to what we plan on doing, but I have talked to other kickers around the league and [kicking it up high] is definitely a strategy that guys or teams are thinking about implementing to change the game.

"Guys don't want to give up that extra five yards on the kickoff, so I think it will definitely change strategies. You can have as much pride as you want of having a strong leg, but if you're not doing what your team asks you to do, then it's not going to be good for you."

Unlike previous years, the Redskins have, at least so far, decided not to hold two kickers on the roster (last offseason Kai Forbath and Ty Long competed into training camp), which is certainly a confidence boost for Hopkins, who made 25-of-28 field goals and 39-of-40 extra points in 2015.

But the lack of physical competition this spring hasn't made him complacent, mostly because he knows how fickle the league can be, especially at his position.

Check out images from the Washington Redskins' defense and special teams during their ninth day of OTAs at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.

"Anytime you can be the only guy in the organization at the time, obviously I'm blessed to be in that position," Hopkins said. "This business, as bad as it kind of sounds, is a constant revolving door it seems like. And you hope it's not but sometimes it is. There's competition in myself, first of all. You expect a certain level of excellence from yourself whatever your position is, and knowing the nature of the business that they can call somebody up right now and be in here."

Hopkins feels stronger and healthy this season, the foundation for what promises to be another productive year. But his understanding of how fluid an NFL roster is – consider his arrival in Washington last year in Week 2 after getting cut by the Saints – has given him a better perspective of his job.

"I'm not overly comfortable, which I don't mind because it's constantly pushing me to be better," he said. "Yes it's nice [to be the only kicker on the roster], but at the same time, I'm not complacent in that. When you worry about yourself, and you worry about doing your job in the moment, and not worried about what anybody else is doing, and you worry about what you can control, the rest will take care of itself."

Hopkins made all five field goals in some blustery conditions during Wednesday's media session, and, while he admitted he's missed a few in the last three weeks, he's continued using the Arena Football League field goal posts that Forbath brought in years before to work on his accuracy.

"You just have to remember if you miss one a foot left, it's really a make," he said. "It's hard to remember that sometimes. You're so focused on whether it went in or not."

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