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Falcons’ Ben Kotwica would rather Younghoe Koo not kick at trees

Special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica talks about his expectations for Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo and the unit. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

In a more perfect world, Falcons special-teams coordinator Ben Kotwica would ship out some uprights for kicker Younghoe Koo to practice on.

“He’s gone from having a field that has uprights,” Kotwica said on a video conference call Thursday. “He’s gone to a field that has got lines and no uprights. He’s gone to field that has a tree that he’s kicking at. It’s really important for people to appreciate the work these players are putting in.”

During the coronavirus pandemic and the sheltering-in-place and self-distancing rules, Falcons special-teams players scattered around the nation work out and send their videos to Kotwica. He provides feedback and waits for the time when everyone can return to Flowery Branch.

He would prefer that the kicking was done more through uprights than at big trees.

“Koo did a nice job for us last year with the things that we asked him for,” Kotwica said. “It was obviously a different situation where he came in mid-year. He was 23 of 26, just nearly 89 percent. He did a nice job.”

However, the Falcons wanted to bring in another kicker to compete with Koo.

“We did feel that at the completion of last year that it was important to bring in another guy,” Kotwica said. “We haven’t made that (decision). We are in different times now. We are not on the field yet.

“If the opportunity presents itself, yes, we’d like to bring in another guy to compete, just to make sure that position is solidified.”

Kotwic heavily scouted former Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship and Georgia Southern kicker Tyler Bass at the combine. Both were rated 5.9 by NFL.com, which was tied for the highest rated of kickers in the draft.

New England selected controversial Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round. Bass was selected by Buffalo in the sixth round and Miami (Ohio) kicker Sam Sloman (Pace Academy) in the seventh by the Rams.

Blankenship was signed by Indianapolis as an undrafted rookie free agent. Kotwica did not know if the Falcons’ front office tried to sign Blankenship.

“I wish him all of the best,” Kotwica said. “Obviously, they’ve got a need perhaps with (Adam) Vinatieri (maybe) moving on there and kicking in the dome. I just wish him the best of luck. He had a good college career, and I wish him the best.”

The competition at punter is set.

Ryan Allen was re-signed, and the Falcons drafted Sterling Hofrichter in the seventh round of the draft. For the first time in nine seasons, Matt Bosher will not open the season as the punter.

“Ryan did a nice job for us last year,” Kotwica said. “We’ll see how it shakes out. They’ll get ample reps, and we’ll move forward from there.”

The Falcons like Hofrichter’s quick release, directional punting ability and the hang-time on his punts.

“Another thing that really popped out is that he minimizes the return yards of the opponent,” Kotwica said. “I think last year he only let out 25, 26 total yards in returns.”

Hofrichter can also kick off and kick field goals in a pinch.

“He’s got a very comprehensive skill-set that we like,” Kotwica said.

Also, the Falcons did not re-sign returner Kenjon Barner, who handled the kickoff and punt returns last season.

The main candidates – all unproven at the NFL level – are wide receivers Brandon Powell, Olamide Zaccheaus and undrafted rookie Chris Rowland.

“O.Z. is a guy that we’ve groomed more so in the punt-return game,” Kotwica said. “We acquired Chris Rowland who is an outstanding young man. We were really fortunate enough to acquire him after the draft.”

Powell returned kickoffs and punts in college at Florida. Rowland, who played at Tennessee State, averaged 12 yards on punt returns and 25 on kickoff returns.

“We have some options there,” Kotwica said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out. We think that we are improving in that area of the game.”

In addition to Koo kicking at a tree, long-snapper Josh Harris is using his gym in the basement after home-schooling three youngsters upstairs.

Allen has a JUGS machine to snap the ball to him.

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