the study of the kicking components within sports

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 13

A quick summary of notable kicking during the thirteenth week of the 2009 college football season:

Freshman kicker Tyler Bitancurt made four FGs, including the game winning 43 yarder on the final play, as West Virginia won 19-16 over Pittsburgh.

Freshman kicker Ian Watts made a 33 yard FG with 1:27 giving Wyoming a 17-16 victory over Colorado State.

Junior kicker A.J. Principe hit a 22-yarder with five seconds remaining to give Buffalo a 9-6 win over Kent State in a battle of field goals.

Sophomore kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick hit a 37 yard FG in overtime to give Tulsa a win 33-30 over Memphis.

Senior kicker Brandon Hellevang made a 34 yard FG with 9:33 remaining in the 4th quarter to give North Dakota a 17-16 victory over Central Arkansas. The Fighting Sioux preserved the win by blocking a FG attempt with 17 seconds remaining.

Junior kicker Alex Lachman hit a 43 yard FG on the final play to lift Johns Hopkins to a 31-29 win over Thomas More.

Sophomore kicker Alex Zendejas hit a 32 yard FG as time expired to give Arizona a 20-17 victory over  Arizona State.

Sophomore kicker Grant Ressel made four FGs, including a 27 yard game winner as time expired, in Missouri's 41-39 win over Kansas.

Junior kicker Josh Jasper hit a 41 yard FG with four seconds remaining in the 4th quarter to tie the game, and then hit a 36 yarder in over time to win it, as LSU won 33-30 over Arkansas.

Sophomore kicker Tyler Cope made a 19 yard FG with 34 seconds remaining to give San Jose State a 13-10 victory over New Mexico State.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1999: The Party's Over

“I was the special teams coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and [in 1998] Gary Anderson had a perfect season and Mitch Berger broke a record, although they don’t consider a record, but he had 40 touchbacks in a season. So everybody looked at our team and said ‘Gosh, why is that happening?’ They looked into it and found out that some of the guys were taking balls and breaking them in, like everybody. It’s not like we were the only guys doing it. The history of kickers is that they would doctor the balls and they would give them to the guys on the sideline to bring them in to kick. So the NFL didn’t want touchbacks to be occurring. They wanted excitement. They wanted the ball kept in play. So that’s why they created this K-ball, so that nobody would get to touch them."
- Coach Gary Zauner
In a previous post, we discussed the making of a football and the various doctoring of balls that occurred. After fines did not solve the alleged problem, the NFL instituted the K-ball rule in 1999. It ensured that all kicking plays in games will use a brand new ball, rather than one that has been “broken in” or possibly tampered with. The K-balls are the same regulation size, shape, and weight as all other balls. From the NFL Rules:
The home club shall have 36 balls for outdoor games and 24 for indoor games available for testing with a pressure gauge by the referee two hours prior to the starting time of the game to meet with League requirements. Twelve (12) new footballs, sealed in a special box and shipped by the manufacturer, will be opened in the officials’ locker room two hours prior to the starting time of the game. These balls are to be specially marked with the letter "K" and used exclusively for the kicking game.
The night before a game, 12 balls marked with a "K" are delivered straight from Wilson Sporting Goods to the officials. Two hours before the game, the officials were to prepare the balls by rubbing them down and brushing them off. They would then check the air pressure and put the balls in a bag until needed for kicking plays in the game. The minimal pre-game preparation often didn’t occur at all, and in 2002 the rule was modified to allow the home teams' equipment personnel 20 minutes to wipe down the balls.

The K-ball rules were modified prior to the 2007 season, primarily as a result of QB/holder Tony Romo’s mishandled snap on a field goal attempt in the 2006 playoffs. The NFL now hired 16 people with officiating backgrounds (all are on the league's candidates list), to serve as K-ball Coordinators. They travel to and from games with that day's crew and that day's footballs. There are 12 K-balls, however the ball coordinator takes only two with him to the sidelines. The rest remain in another area, available if and when they're needed. The balls are marked K‑1, K‑2, K‑3 and so forth, with the K-ball coordinator introducing them in sequence. K‑ball No. 1 will be used on the opening kickoff and on every kicking play it's no longer available. Then the No. 2 K‑ball will be put into play, and subsequently used on every kicking play until it is no longer available. And so forth. Also changed for 2007 was the pre-game preparation of the balls. The time allotment was increased to 45 minutes and both teams, rather than just the home team, were allowed to do the rub down.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NFL Week Eleven K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week eleven of the 2009 season:
Week 11 featured the usual makes, misses, fakes, and punting. Our weekly quotes however all focus on the most widely noticed aspect - game winning field goals (of which there were many this week). 

In Kansas City, a 22 yard field goal in overtime gave the Chiefs a win over Pittsburgh. Afterward, rookie kicker Ryan Succop thanked those who assisted him:
“Thomas [Gafford] did a great job snapping the ball, Dustin [Colquitt] did a great job holding it and, fortunately, the Lord blessed me with the strength and the peace to put it through.
In New York, after missing a short field goal attempt in the first quarter, Lawrence Tynes got a chance at redemption in overtime. His successful 36 yarder won the game against Atlanta. He discussed both kicks afterward:
"Man, it's a week-to-week life, let's be real. This is the best job in the world when you're kicking well, and it's the worst when you're not.... I just know, for whatever reason, when you miss in the first half, it's going to end up costing you. I knew that was going to haunt us. Even though we were up 14, I knew I had to make amends. Fortunately I got an opportunity to do that.... It is really a good feeling to kind of be a hero for 30 seconds.... I'm just happy for the guys; it's been a long time since we won a game," he said. "I'm fine. It's just the competitor in me that is ticked off. I'm a pretty resilient guy. I let the misses go, like a cup of Gatorade. You have to. I'm just happy we won. Still, you want to kick yourself for missing in the first quarter."
In Oakland, Sebastian Janikowski missed a 57 yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half, however he was good on a 33 yarder near the end of the second half to give the Raiders a win over Cincinnati. He said of the missed long attempt:
“Going southside, it's hard to kick the long ones because you're going into the wind so every time you try to kill it.”
The most talked about kicking match-up prior to the games occurred in Baltimore. The Colts' Matt Stover spent most of the game watching the Ravens' Billy Cundiff make five of six field goal attempts. Cundiff had just been signed to replace Steve Hauschka who had replaced Stover. In the end however, the winning score in the game was a Stover field goal in the fourth quarter. Afterward, he discussed kicking against his long-time former team:
"I am emotionally exhausted. I'm toast. I may not show it, but I'm toast. That's hard, especially against friends and a team you love so much. I don't mind saying it: I love the Ravens. Hey, what was I doing when the Colts hadn't signed me yet? I was coming to Ravens games."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 12

A quick summary of notable kicking during the twelfth week of the 2009 college football season:

Senior kicker Andrew Howard hit a 48 yard FG as time expired to give Richmond a 13-10 victory over William and Mary.

Sophomore kicker David Lang made a 27 yard FG goal with one second remaining to give Butler a 20-17 win over Drake.

Sophomore kicker Kevin Goessling hit a 35 yard FG on the final play to give Fresno State a 30-28 win over Louisiana Tech.

Sophomore kicker James Aho made a 27 yard FG with 12 seconds remaining to give previously winless New Mexico a 29-27 victory over Colorado State.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NFL Week Ten K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week ten of the 2009 season:

Two of the Florida teams - Miami and Jacksonville - won their games on late field goals. The other Florida team - Tampa Bay - was on the losing end to the Dolphins, however it was certainly not due to their kicker. Connor Barth joined some elite company by making three field goals of 50+ yards in the game. He commented afterward:
"I had a tough week in practice. It means a lot when he has the confidence in me to [let me] go out there and bang it through. As a kicker, you see those wide receivers and linemen and quarterbacks getting down there, and you want to put it through for those guys.... You have to give credit to the offense. They put me in position. As a kicker, that's your job. You're kind of the finisher. That's how I see it. They dig, they bleed. They bust their [butt]. It feels good when you put it through for them. It's a team game."
While a certain fourth down decision from late in the Sunday night game has generated a staggeringly nauseating amount of post-game discussion, debate, and analysis, here at Kickology we will focus on a fourth down decision from one of the early afternoon games. The Redskins lined up for a 52 yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, but holder Hunter Smith and kicker Shaun Suisham both broke formation for a designed fake play. Before the snap however, the coaches realized they had only ten men on the field and subsequently called a timeout. Nonetheless, they stuck with fake play rather than kicking the ball, as Smith explained:
"It's not the element of surprise we were going for. We had a strategy. We were trying to scheme against them, and it worked.... There was a moment when you stand up and you're in shotgun and you kind of look at the defense, and you go, 'Wow, I haven't seen this in about 12 to 14 years.'"
The opposing Broncos knew something was afoot, but didn't know exactly what, as defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday commented:
"They were setting up something — we knew it. They came back, and I think they may have even yelled out on their sideline, 'Let's just punt it. Let's just punt it.' And I guess we just bought into it, because we didn't lock in on the play and what was going on. It seems like it took forever to unfold."
Denver's coaches were also on the wrong page, as head coach Josh McDaniels elaborated:
"They came up with something they obviously feel really good about, something we had never seen...We were trying to play safe, we thought it might be a pooch [punt], something other than a kick.... We defended some of it well, but obviously it was Mike Sellers who got out the back door and we didn’t have anyone on him."
The play resulted in a 35 yard TD pass from Smith to Sellers. Suisham provided his take on why it worked:
"Hunter throws the ball very well. He's got a better arm than what you saw. He can throw darts. He went to Notre Dame."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 11

A quick summary of notable kicking during the eleventh week of the 2009 college football season:

Sophomore kicker Garrett Lindholm's Division II playoff record 64 yard FG on the final play of regulation sent the game into overtime, where Tarleton State eventually won 57-56 over Texas A&M Kingsville in the second overtime period.

Freshman kicker Matt Weller made a 47 yard FG with 1:25 remaining to give Ohio a 27-24 victory over Buffalo.

During Michigan State's 40-37 win over Purdue, senior kicker Brett Swenson made four FGs, including two 52 yarders in the third quarter and the 21 yard game-winner with 1:51 remaining in the game.

Junior backup-kicker and former-soccer-player Devin Barclay made a 39 yard FG in overtime to give Ohio State a 27-24 win over Iowa.

Freshman punter and backup-kicker Charlie Leventry made a 31 yard FG as time expired to give Duquesne a 45-42 win over Sacred Heart.

Senior kicker Brian Pate hit a 37 yard FG with 2:54 left to give William & Mary a 20-17 win over New Hampshire.

Junior kicker Eric Ellestad made a 25 yard FG with 2:22 remaining to give Minnesota a 16-13 win over South Dakota State.

Freshman kicker Josh Lewis hit a 28 yard FG with 1:30 left in the game as McNeese State won 30-27 over Texas State.

Freshman kicker Seth Streeter made a 22 yard FG with five seconds remaining to give Luther College a 20-17 win over Loras College.

Freshman kicker Ian Watts made a 43 yard FG with 23 seconds left as Wyoming rallied for 30-27 win over San Diego State.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Making and Fixing a Football

The following excerpt from a Popular Mechanics article [by Scott Oldham, 2001] looks at the history and production of official NFL game balls:
“In 1941, with "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins fast becoming the NFL's first great passing quarterback, Wilson purchased "The Duke" name from rival Spalding. Ever since, Wilson has been the official manufacturer of all NFL footballs. The Duke, also used by the American Football League from 1960 to 1969, received a name change in 1969 when the two leagues merged. It is now simply called the NFL ball.
Wilson continued to improve the ball with such innovations as hand‑sewn ends, triple lining and lock‑stitch seams. In 1951, rubber footballs were tried briefly, and in 1956, the NFL approved the use of easier‑to‑see white footballs for night games. This evolved into special night footballs with white stripes around each end—banned in 1976 because the paint made the balls slick. In 1955, Wilson developed the TD football, which featured a new Tanned‑in‑Tack material, also known as Grip‑Tite. This material has a tacky feel that makes the ball easier to grip, especially when wet. The exclusive Tanned‑in‑Tack cowhide leather is supplied by the Horween Leather Co., and has been since 1941. That's right. No pigskin. In 1981, a new Ultra Pebble design for the leather, which further enhanced the grip, was introduced.
Inside the ball is a high‑tech three‑ply polyurethane bladder. Two of the layers are standard polyurethane but the third is a unique material, which is secret. In fact, Wilson's bladder recipe is such a well‑kept secret that factory tours in that area of the facility are forbidden. The lacing, once fragile cotton, like shoelaces, is now made of an extruded polyvinyl chloride, which is more durable. The process of fabricating a ball, whether it's for the shelf at Wal‑Mart or the next Super Bowl, is surprisingly simple and has remained basically unchanged since 1941. The four panels of the ball are cut cookie‑cutter style from a large sheet of leather. The panels are then checked for blemishes and weighed to make sure they meet specifications. Linings for each panel and reinforcements for the bladder opening and valve ring are then added. After the panels are hand‑sewn together inside out, the ball is turned through the lace opening using an iron post and a bit of muscle. The bladder is inserted and the ball is double laced by hand. It's then over‑inflated to 80 psi so its appearance, stitching and shape can be examined. If it passes inspection, it's stamped "NFL," deflated and delivered.”
Prior to 1999, all game balls were sent to a team during the week prior to a game. Equipment managers would then prep the balls, typically by rubbing them down with a brush or towel, and possibly using a little rubbing alcohol to get rid of the slickness. Anything more than that might create issues for the quarterbacks. But some kickers had other ideas in a quest to create the ideal kicking ball. There are numerous stories regarding their methods to try to make the ball softer, a little rounder, with looser seams and an inflated bladder.

What did they allegedly do? Soak them in water, lemonade, or evaporated milk. Bake them in an oven, either as is or wrapped in aluminum foil. Nuke them in a microwave. Steam them in a sauna. Run them through clothes dryer cycles. Bath them for several hours in a hot tub. Bash them against hard surfaces. Repeatedly drop heavy weights on them. Over-inflate them for several days, and then deflate them back to regulation pressure prior to the game. Deluxe treatments combined several of the methods, such as over-inflating, followed by rubbing alcohol, then baking them, and finally deflating.

In 1994 the league made an attempt to curb the illegal doctoring of balls. They implemented levying a $15,000 fine against the equipment manager of any team caught with a doctored ball. While this may have reduced occurrences of tampering, it did not eliminate the problem. Five years later the league would take a more drastic approach - with the introduction of the dreaded K-ball...

The above first appeared in The Complete Guide to Kickology III.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NFL Week Nine K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week nine of the 2009 season:
One of the more talked about kicks from Sunday's games has been Lawrence Tynes' non-kick. The Giants were attempting a 38 yard field goal on their opening possession, however Tynes aborted the kick in progress when he saw that Jeff Feagles was having trouble with the hold.
Tynes commented afterwards:
"As he [Feagles] was bringing the ball around I saw it drop out of his hands. He had two hands on it, so it was either kick both hands, or stop. It’s even more frustrating when you lose by one point.... He kind of double-caught it and I didn't feel like I could make the kick, so I pulled out. It wasn't terrible, but it was enough to pull me off. I may have been a little quick to it, but I just didn't feel like I could make the kick."
The obvious hindsight question is whether Tynes should have carried through with the kick. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin doesn't think so:
"No. The way that came about - if you remember it was out a ways - it wasn't like an extra point where you could hold and then just swing without any momentum. It wasn't going to be one of those deals because of the distance and because you have to strike the ball properly to get it up over the rush in the first place. So that was not the case last night, no."
Jeff Feagles offered his summary several days later:
"I caught it, and when I went to put it down, it slipped out of my hands. And by the time I got it down on the ground, Lawrence saw the angle of the ball … It’s such a split second. You figure a kick gets off in 1.3 seconds, he saw the ball at an angle and didn’t think I was going to get it back up. By the time I got it back up, could he have kicked it? Maybe. But at that instance, it’s … And then, being 4th and 1, it was the situation, I’ve got to run, and Mr. Merriman introduced himself to me."
In Indianapolis, the Texans' Kris Brown got his potential game tying 42 yard field goal attempt off on the final play of the game, however he came up wide. He responded to the media's obvious questions afterwards:
"I missed the kick. I went out there, went through my routine.  I felt the ball come off my foot really well. The ball just moved a little left.... It's my job. I take a lot of pride in coming through for this team, especially in those situations. To have that happen with the way our guys played, for me is very disappointing."
Perhaps of more interest was head coach Gary Kubiak's comments, which were very different than the approach Seattle's Jim Mora Jr. took when Olindo Mare missed two kicks earlier in the year:
“Kris has made a lot of big kicks for us, and he's going to make a lot more. I told him we believe in him, and we're going to count on him again. He's been kicking very well.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 10

A quick summary of notable kicking during the tenth week of the 2009 college football season:

Freshman kicker Matt Hogan hit a 51 yard FG as time expired to give Houston a 46-45 come from behind win over Tulsa.

Freshman kicker Brandon McManus made an 18 yard FG with 3 seconds remaining to give Temple a 34-32 win over Miami of Ohio.

Freshman kicker Jason Myers hit a 37 yard FG with five seconds left to give Marist a 23-21 victory over Georgetown.

Freshman kicker Nick DeLuca made a 20 yard FG on the final play giving McDaniel College a 22-20 victory over Gettysburg.

Sophomore kicker Foley Schmidt made a 40 yard FG in the second overtime to give Dartmouth a 20-17 win over Cornell.

Junior kicker Craig Burgess made a 41 yard FG  with five seconds remaining to give Indiana University of PA a 34-32 win over Kutztown.

Junior kicker Garrett Clawson made a 20 yard FG as time expired giving Robert Morris a 13-10 win over Albany.

Sophomore kicker Brody McKnight hit a 33 yard FG as time expired to give Montana a 12-10 win over Idaho State.

Friday, November 6, 2009

12 Kickoff Artists, 4 Dimensions

Placekicking typically garners most of the attention (and this blog is equally guilty), however kickoffs are just as important within the game of football. From a numbers standpoint, net distance and opponents' average starting position are the key team statistics. But since we're here to focus on the kickers rather than the coverage team, we'll take a look at the more individualized statistic of touchbacks.

After the first eight weeks of the 2009 NFL season, following are the top dozen touchback totals:

17 David Buehler, Dallas
13 Stephen Gostkowski, New England
12 Michael Koenen, Atlanta
12 Olindo Mare, Seattle
12 Thomas Morstead, New Orleans
11 Rhys Lloyd, Carolina
11 Neil Rackers, Arizona
9 Matt Prater, Denver
9 Josh Scobee, Jacksonville
8 Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland
7 David Akers, Philadelphia
7 Pat McAfee, Indianapolis

Two of those are designated kickoff specialists (Buehler & Lloyd), the only such two in the league. Three are punters (Koenen, Morstead, & McAfee). Three are rookies (Buehler, Morstead, & McAfee). Mare has been around the longest, having entered the NFL in 1997.

After the Panthers demonstrated last year that finding and rostering a kickoff specialist can pay dividends, the Cowboys decided to give it a try this year. Some questioned their drafting of David Buehler in the fifth round, however he now sits atop the list. Dallas head coach Wade Phillips noted:
"That's what we envisioned, and that's the only reason we drafted him and the only reason he's playing. He's proven he could do that. Field position, we know, is a big key. And he's provided a lot of that just on touchbacks."
Buehler's big leg had been evident in college, but as he notes, that is only part of the equation in the pros:
"Direction is a lot bigger in the NFL than it was at USC. I pretty much had free reign to kick the hell out of it. The coaches might say aim more right, but if it goes down the middle and it's a touchback, who cares? But [special teams coordinator] Joe DeCamillis is really strict about direction. I've been working on that. When I'm told to hit it right, hit it right. If I'm told to hit it left, I want a touchback but in the left corner."
Distance and direction account for two of the dimensions. Stephen Gostkowski, currently second on the touchbacks list, discussed the third and fourth dimensions - height and time:
“I focus more on hang time than anything. And a lot of times, when I focus on hang time and hitting a good ball, it goes farther anyway. I don’t try to just drive it through the end zone. I just try to make good contact, and aim where I’m trying to aim and give the 10 guys running down there running their butts off the best chance to make a play inside the 25-[yard line]. I pride myself on getting good hang time and giving guys a lot of time to get down there and make a play. You can get in trouble if you try to just drive it down there. If you drive it, you better kick it out of the end zone. You can get in trouble with the low line driver.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NFL Week Eight K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week eight of the 2009 season:
Extra points are almost automatic, although defenders do on rare occasions manage to block one. In all of 2008 there were three blocked PATs in the NFL. That makes this past Sunday all the more unusual as there were three blocked PATs in one week. Philadelphia's David Akers streak of 171 consecutive successful PATs in the regular season dating back to 2004 was broken when the Giants' Fred Robbins blocked one. Cleveland's Phil Dawson finally returned to action after having missed five games with calf injury. His only placekick in the game was an extra point attempt that was blocked. Browns' head coach Eric Mangini reaffirmed that coaches expect extra points to be automatic:
“We can’t go down the field and score and not execute the extra point."
Jacksonville's Josh Scobee also had a PAT blocked. Titans' safety Michael Griffin, who made the block, discussed his game in general:
"I just feel like I was all over the field. It was an attitude. I just felt like (Sunday) I was playing with a lot more confidence, a lot more attitude. Like I said, I was able to clear my mind this past week and was just able to play."
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers once again changed kickers - releasing Shane Andrus and signing Connor Barth. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik discussed the decision:
"He came in today and had a very good workout for us, so we decided to make the change.... I feel good about this kicker. He got experience in games last year, came in here, had a very good workout and it was a lot windier ... it wasn't an ideal kicking situation. But at least it was difficult, a crosswind for him to see how he can move that ball. He kicked off extremely well. Good hang times.... Consistency from Shane in practice was a concern, because obviously Shane only kicked one ball in a game. It was more the consistency we were getting day-in and day-out that made us want to make a change."
Head coach Raheem Morris seemed almost nonchalant about the lack of continuity at the kicker position:
"It's about constant evaluation of the bottom of our roster.... We weren't getting that in practice, we weren't getting the kickoffs that we wanted in the games.... We have to keep flipping that thing over until you get who you like and who you want. Now it's his [Barth's] turn to see what he can do."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 9

A quick summary of notable kicking during the ninth week of the 2009 college football season:

Sophomore kicker Casey Barth made a 21 yard FG on the final play to give North Carolina a 20-17 upset win over Virginia Tech. 

Sophomore kicker Billy Daniels made a 26 yard FG in the second overtime giving Kean a 23-20 victory over Rowan. 

Senior kicker Dustin Rivest made a 24 yard FG in overtime to give Florida International a 20-17 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis hit a 56 yard FG during Florida's 41-17 win over Georgia.

Junior kicker Will Snyderwine made five FGs (44, 28, 34, 25, and 43 yards) in Duke's 28-17 win over Virginia.

Sophomore kicker Giorgio Tavecchio hit a 17 yard FG with 21 seconds remaining to give California a 23-21 victory over Arizona State.

Junior kicker Gordan Craig made a 41 yard FG with 7 seconds left to give Dickinson a 17-16 come from behind win over Muhlenberg.

Junior kicker Wes Sherrill's 39 yard FG attempt with one second remaining was blocked as Glenville State held on for a 14-12 win over the University of Charleston

Junior kicker Garrett Clawson's three FGs (23, 35 and 35 yards) were all Robert Morris needed for a 9-7 win over Sacred Heart. 

Sophomore kicker Trevor Scott's 35 yard FG in overtime gave Florida A&M a a 31-28 win over Morgan State.