the study of all things kicker related

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NFL Week Sixteen K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week sixteen of the 2009 season:
 
Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski has attempted quite a few long range field goals during his career. In less than ideal weather conditions in Cleveland this past weekend, he made a 61 yarder - the longest of his career and the fourth longest in NFL history.
 “That’s one of the best kicks I’ve ever had. In these conditions with the snow and wind, I’m proud of it. In warm-ups, we kicked it 60 yards going in that direction. I hit it hard. I thought it was short at first and it barely got in there.”
Quite a few teams changed kickers part way through the 2009 season. The head coaches of two of those teams commented on the current kickers solid progress, but were non-committal as to whether the kicker had job security for 2010. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh discussed Billy Cundiff:
"Billy's obviously solidified us. Billy’s kicking off very well and he’s kicking field goals really well. Billy’s been around, Billy’s been on the street. Billy’s had great success early in his career.... He was one of these guys that was going to be a star when he was in Dallas early on. Had some injures, got bumped around, got beat up a little bit, and now he’s back.... We’ll see long-term wise, but I’ve got high hopes for Billy.”
Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris similarly discussed Connor Barth, whose 47 yarder in overtime gave the Buccaneers and upset win over the Saints:
"All he's done is come in here and make field goals for us and, really, be consistent. I know he missed a couple. But for the most part, he's been banging them. He had the big three 50-yard field-goal day (against Miami last month), he had the game-winner against the New Orleans Saints. He's pretty much been consistent all year.... It's nice to see him grow up and mature and do things well," Morris said. "You definitely have to take him into consideration for the future. He's a young kicker with a strong leg."
New Orleans was in a position to have won the game, however Garrett Hartley missed a 37 yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining in regulation. Afterward, head coach Sean Payton did not present Hartley as the scapegoat, but instead continued to express confidence in his kicker:
"It came down to a late field goal, so that kick is more magnified, but I've seen him operate in big situations. The key is the player knowing that you have confidence in him. And that's something that he has established. That's not always the case. We've been here, and you guys have seen it. I might not openly say it, but I might hold my breath with a kick (in the past), and it's not the case with him. I have a lot of confidence in his leg.... When you see what I see during the workweek and you see the talent that he is, he's going to do a good job for us and make a lot of those kicks. He already has made some of them. ... Sometimes you're in a situation where you might not have the player that you think is going to be your kicker for the next five, six, seven years, but I do think we have that player. And that's something that he's had to earn, now. It isn't just because we want him to be.... I liked the look in his eye after the miss. I got after him a little bit, but it was important (to keep him ready), because here we are going into overtime, and he might be back out there again. And I think he had the right look."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NFL Week Fifteen K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week fourteen of the 2009 season:
Most of the attention on struggling kickers in recent days has focused on Nick Folk - who the Cowboys released yesterday and replaced with Shaun Suisham, who the Redskins had previously released and replaced with Graham Gano, who had kicked in the UFL after losing out in preseason to Steve Hauschka, who the Ravens later released and replaced with Billy Cundiff, who is now in the role filled for many many years by Matt Stover, who is presently filling in for injured Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who previously made some big kicks in the playoffs while with the Patriots. Meanwhile in Green Bay, another kicker is also struggling. But his head coach, Mike McCarthy, is still opting not to ride the carousel:
"Mason Crosby’s our kicker. He will be our kicker moving forward. I have zero interest in bringing in a kicker. I have all the confidence that Mason will fix the issue that he’s having with missing the one kick a game. I know it doesn’t do any good talking about it in here or publicly, but he’s kicked the ball very well. The two opportunities to make key field goals, he did not. I think they’re technical things that he’s fully capable of correcting, and that will be our focus.... He’s a very talented kicker, he’s our kicker, he will be our kicker and he will kick it through the uprights."
Meanwhile in San Diego, kicker Nate Kaeding hit a 52 yard game winning FG with 3 seconds remaining giving the Chargers a big 27-24 win over the Bengals. He commented afterward:
"When I hit it, I knew it was good. There was a lot of adrenaline in that situation, with it coming down to the wire and having to hit it for the win. I struck it clean, it went through and mayhem ensued from there."
Also hitting a big game winner this week was the Titans' Rob Bironas. His 46 yarder in overtime gave them a 27-24 win over the Dolphins.
"Time to go to work, that's what I said to (holder) Brett Kern. It was a good snap by Ken Amato, a good hold by Brett, the guys on the line did an unbelievable job blocking, not letting anybody come through, and my job is easy. When they do their job right, I hit like I do every day."
In the game at Philadelphia, 49ers kicker Joe Nedney pulled his hamstring on a kickoff. Afterward he provided some brotherly love:
"It felt like a sniper shot, and I wouldn't put that past Philly fans....  If I was a running back or a linebacker I could probably play. But with the way I swing my leg, I need my left hamstring."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NFL Week Fourteen K Quotes

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

After being limited to one PAT last week, Matt Bryant was busier in his second game upon returning to the NFL - making three FGs and two PATs in Atlanta's close loss to New Orleans. He recently completed a successful stint in the inaugural season of the UFL. He had previously spent several years kicking for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however coaching changes, a surprise kicker competition, and an injury led to his release at the end of preseason this year. Bryant discussed his return:
“The reason why I’m here at the end of the year is because things weren’t going so well. I was brought in to fix whatever was wrong. You just want to get in there and get your first kick out of the way. Once that’s in, you come back down from [the emotional high] and go at your kicks.”
On the other side of the Falcons loss was another win for the undefeated Saints. While the foot of kicker Garrett Hartley has garnered the recent attention, rookie punter Thomas Morstead had quietly continued to excel on kickoffs. Head coach Sean Payton discussed the drafting of Morstead:
“We knew he had leg talent. To answer your question, it has been somewhat of a surprise in regards to his kickoff ability. I don’t think any of us envisioned that. We did see a player that we thought had a lot of ability as a punter and we felt good about his athleticism, we felt good about a lot of things when we selected him and fortunately we were right.”
While New Orleans has been winning with regularity this year, Cleveland has not. Their win this week not only ended a seven game losing streak, it also provided a rare win against division rival Pittsburgh. Kicker Phil Dawson has ten years of kicking history against the Steelers. After the game, he did not focus on kicking or special teams, but instead discussed winning and losing:
“With all due respect to the other guys in here, I don’t know how many of them understand how special it is to beat these guys. I enjoyed the few other times that we’ve beaten them, but I enjoyed this one the most. So many times after playing the Steelers, I’ve left the locker room frustrated, disappointed and distraught, and now that we beat them, especially with so many of their fans in our stadium, I can walk out here happy and with a great deal of satisfaction.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kicking in the Cold

As we head deeper into December, winter weather arrives at more and more football games (except of course for those inside a dome). Weather conditions impact all facets of the game, however we'll focus on the kicking games as usual. What is the impact of kicking in the bitter cold? We asked a few people who kick for a living:

Ryan Longwell
“Bitter cold is more mental than anything else. You just have to understand that the ball is not gonna fly. That same field goal that’ll fly 55 or 60 yards in August is probably going about 40 yards in December. You have to realize that the ball is going to be hard and it’s not going to fly very far.”

Robbie Gould
"In bitter cold, you just have to hit a low-ball when you are further out.”

Mason Crosby
"Bitter cold is mainly controlling and containing body warmth and staying loose on the sidelines. It is all about focus in the cold and making sure you do not over swing trying to get more power.”

Connor Barth
“Regarding bitter cold temperatures: Well, the last two games [last year] at Kansas City were eight degrees and minus twenty with the wind chill. I’ve definitely kicked in a few of them. The main thing there is again really making sure you’re on the same page with your special teams coach and your head coach about where you feel comfortable kicking from. If it’s 60 or 70 degrees out, then 60 yards and in you’re usually pretty good. But when you get into the colder situations, the ball’s harder. Especially when it gets below freezing, the ball is just completely different. It impacts your foot; it [the ball] doesn’t come off quite as well. What I did against San Diego and Miami, I went out in pre-game and got back as far as I could and saw where I felt comfortable. Usually it was around 50 or 53 yards in that cold weather. In regular sunny conditions where it’s 70 degrees I can probably hit 60 yarders. You really gotta make sure you test out the ball, because a ball in practice is not the same as the game ball. The game ball is going to be a little bit harder because they’re newer. So you have to take that into to account too. When you get that ball you really have to test it out and see how you like it and see how it feels off your foot. In the end for the most part it’s probably going to take maybe ten yards off your kick in freezing weather like that.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fred Mitchell 3 - The Award

In the first two segments of our interview with Fred Mitchell, we discussed his early kicking career through high school and his college days at Wittenberg University. In today's segment we jump to the recent past and present. Tomorrow, a blue-ribbon selection committee will vote on the first annual Fred Mitchell Outstanding Place-Kicker Award. We asked Mr. Mitchell about the origins and development of the award:



"The person who engineered this whole project was Chris Kearney. He happens to be the president of the Chicago chapter of the National Football Foundation. He was aware of the fact that I was a kicker at Wittenberg University in Ohio. He and another member of the organization who also was a small college kicker had been talking. Then they got me involved in talking about the fact that there was no national award for small college kickers. Of course the Lou Groza Award honors the outstanding kicker among the Division I football programs, but there are almost 400 colleges in Division II and Division III which are not part of that recognition process. So I certainly, heartily agreed that there should be such an award. Then Chris Kearney suggested that the award be named after me, which obviously thrilled me to no end to be associated with that.

From there we further decided that another criteria for the award, besides the obvious kicking performance, would be a community service aspect. So in addition to having the kicking performances sent in from the various sports information directors, we also asked that they list community and/or school activities that the kickers involved in as well.

This thing came about very quickly over last summer. We quickly formed a blue ribbon selection committee that includes the likes of George Blanda, Kevin Butler, Lou Holtz, Paul Hornung, Marv Levy, Steve McMichael, Mark Murphy (the president of the Green Bay Packers), Gale Sayers, Bob Thomas (former Bears kicker before Kevin Butler)… so a real select group of people. There are others as well who are either former kickers or people who are involved in the community. First there was a preseason watch list that came out. I think there were 18 young men on that list.

In December the selection committee will determine a winner. On February 22, 2010 the Nation Football Foundation (Chicago chapter) award ceremony will be held at Halas Hall at the Chicago Bears training complex. Part of that award ceremony will be the first presentation of the Fred Mitchell Award. The winner will be flown in to Chicago. We will also present a scholarship to the school that he represents, and obviously he’ll be presented with the Fred Mitchell Trophy at that time.

I’m very excited. I’m honored to have my name associated with the award and also to give added recognition to my university, Wittenberg University. I’ve maintained ties to Wittenberg over the years. I’m a member of the Wittenberg Athletic Hall of Fame – I was inducted in 1995. I’m currently one of the members of the Board of Directors at Wittenberg. Any opportunity to spread the word about my university, from a personal standpoint is very rewarding to me. Obviously the school is thrilled about that as well."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NFL Week Thirteen K Quotes

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

All jobs are tenuous in the big business that is the NFL. That is especially true for kickers. Numerous examples can be found in events before, during, and after the week 13 game between Washington and New Orleans.
Following the 2006 season , the Saints decided to release John Carney and go the proverbial "different direction" with their kicking. Over the next year and a half, they signed and drafted several kickers that didn't pan out. Meanwhile Carney surfaced in New York last year and had a big year for the Giants. The Saints eventually admitted that they regretted having released Carney. They did however eventually find their kicker, Garrett Hartley, during the second half of last year. Unfortunately heading into 2009, he ended up being suspended for the first four games. That led to re-signing Carney. New Orleans was set to let Carney handle the placekicking for all of this year, and save Hartley for 2010. But Carney struggled, and the team decided to make the switch back to Hartley for the Redskins game. Hartley first learned of the news from Carney:
"John told me before the coaches told me. He just said, ‘you’re in.’ And, I said, ‘don’t mess with me.’ And he said, ‘I wouldn’t mess with you on something this important.’ To hear about the change from him meant a whole lot to me. He is such a mentor for me, a real professional, a guy I’ve learned so much from and will continue to learn from as we go forward."
Hartley would contribute significantly in New Orleans dramatic win over Washington. He made four of five field goals, with the only miss coming from very long range (58 yards at the end of regulation). His final kick was the game winner in overtime. He commented afterwards:
“To have the opportunity that I had tonight was truly amazing. I wanted to make my mark and let people know that I can still kick. I couldn’t have written a better script. This is a storybook ending and we still have four games to go in the regular season."
Hartley might not have gotten that overtime opportunity had Washington not missed a short field goal late in the fourth quarter. Although Shaun Suisham made three field goals in the game, he was wide right on a 23 yard attempt at the two minute warning. The Redskins lead would have increased to ten points had he made it. He lamented afterwards:
"I feel terrible. It's about as difficult as it gets. We have the New Orleans Saints coming in here. The guys play an unbelievable game. And I miss that kick."
Long snapper Ethan Albright stepped up to shoulder the blame for the miss:
"It starts with me. I threw the rhythm off. It's my job is to do it right. There's never a good time for a bad snap."
Although the coaching staff initially also referenced a high snap, they indicate after further review they felt the snap was acceptable. Head coach Jim Zorn commented today:
"We played for that field goal. And we were all assured, and I believe Shaun was assured, that, you know, that ball was gonna go through with that 23-yard field goal. And yet it didn't. It does affect all of us."
Consequently, the Redskins worked out four kickers today, including Graham Gano whom they signed. Suisham was released. Zorn elaborated:
"It looks like he's [Gano] got some potential. All these kickers kind of make their circuit on tryouts and he's been doing that, trying to stay in shape, so we're going to give him an opportunity this year and move Shaun.... The kickers that we brought in were good and this guy has some real talent. Now, we'll see. The exciting part for him is now he gets a real opportunity here to kick in live situations. He's got a strong leg, Graham does, and yet now there's some things that we've got to teach.... Shaun has performed very well. I'm sure when I talk to him ... I know he'll just be, you know, upset, and he should be. But then yet there's an accountability there. We'll all end up being accountable for our season. No question about it."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 14

A quick summary of notable kicking during the fourteenth week of the 2009 college football season:
Senior kicker Hunter Lawrence hit a 46 yard field goal on the final play of the game giving Texas a 13-12 victory over Nebraska and a shot at the national championship. Lawrence noted: 
"I was just trying to stay focused and not get too nervous. It was a great feeling when it finally went through."
Sophomore kicker Dave Teggart made a 42 yard FG as time expired to give Connecticut a 29-27 win over South Florida. Teggart commented afterwards: 
"It's so emotional to see these guys out there playing their hearts out, especially in a game like this where it comes down to the end. All those guys, all those seniors depending on you, and I was glad I could come through for those guys. It means a lot to me to send them out with a win."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Dreaded K-ball

We previously discussed the ways in which some kickers previously used to "enhance" footballs for improved kickability, and then discussed the NFL's response of introducing the K-ball. Today we'll discuss the bottom line... what impact does the K-ball actually have? We asked a few guys with first hand knowledge, and here are their responses:

Ryan Longwell
“Yea, it’s a huge difference. I always use the example: it’s the equivalent of going out to short stop and having someone hit you ground balls while wearing a broken in baseball glove, and then giving you a brand new glove right of the rack and taking the same ground balls. The leather’s just harder; it’s not as flexible. When you’re kicking something like that, it doesn’t fly as far. A broken in football gets some moisture in the leather, so there’s a little more weight to it, so it can cut through wind and fly a little farther. The K-ball was a big difference. I think that’s why you see, over the seven or eight years it’s been in the league, that a lot more of the teams are going with veteran kickers and proven guys that can hit the ball solid, than a lot more of the young guys with big legs. Because the big leg doesn’t necessarily translate into accuracy with the new K-ball like it did with the old broken in balls.”

“We get brand new balls basically every week [in practice]. I don’t think we kick enough to break them in totally over the course of a week. We’ll always use brand new balls. It’s changed probably more for the equipment guys around the league than it has for anybody else, because they’re probably going through a lot more rotatings. It’s just a factor that when I first got in the league it wasn’t there and then they changed it. It’s something you’ve got to deal with.”

Joe Nedney
“The K-ball has improved over the years, but it varies from ball to ball.  Not all leather panels are the same.  Some balls are knobbier, more rigid, and just plain hard while others can be smoother, softer and more pliable.  The referees give equipment guys about 15 to 20 minutes of supervised time to rub down the 12 K-balls.  That translates to a little over a minute per ball.  That's nowhere near enough time.  A bad K-ball can cost a kicker five yards on field goal distance. The sweet spot on a bad K-ball is much smaller which increases the chance of a miss-hit.”

Robbie Gould
“The K-balls are brand new balls so they don’t travel as far. If you have a ball that is more worked in, it is going to travel a lot further. The good thing about a new ball is that it doesn’t move quite as much. An older ball that is a little more deflated will move right or left a bit more.”

Mason Crosby
“K-Balls are brand new footballs for each game and are only worked in for 45 minutes before a game. This makes them less forgiving, but you will get a few really nice ones. It all depends on the quality of the ball and how well it is worked in. You don’t get much consistency from ball to ball and I think that is a big reason we use a K-ball.”

Jeff Reed
“There is definitely a difference. I can’t speak for the NFL, but I have heard stories. I never paid attention to or heard of a K-ball until I got to the NFL. You were able to practice with the balls all week in practice and then use them in games – that is what I did in college. Luckily, our quarterbacks chose the balls in college and they liked the older ones to throw. That benefited me with hang time and distance. It definitely affects it because you never know what you are going to get. For home games, your equipments guys rub the balls down. Our guy knows what we like and what other teams like because I talk to other kickers. When it comes to away games, it is either hit or miss because you get fantastic balls because the kicker and punter know what they are doing and they tell the guys (rubbing the balls) or you get the guys who don’t know what they are doing or they don’t care about the football, and it could be terrible. It can be hit or miss. I think that K-balls definitely affect kickers no matter what anybody says.”

Jay Feely
“The interesting thing is that you can get a good K-ball or a bad K-ball. A k-ball is not a different ball in anyway than the regular game ball; it’s just a ball that has not been broken in. The balls the quarterbacks use, they’ll take them down, they’ll rub them, they’ll break them in, and use them throughout the week to have them not be so new. The K-balls are brand new right out of the box. You’re not allowed to do anything to them. You’re not allowed to kick them at all before the game. You can get a good new ball, or a bad new ball. The difference between a good new ball and a bad new ball is probably about ten yards on a kickoff or a field goal. If you get a bad ball when you go to kickoff, I’ll even tell our guys on our kickoff team, “Hey it’s a bad ball, be ready for a short kick.” Because I know regardless of how well I kick it, it’s not gonna come down probably any deeper than the ten yard line."

"You can tell when you hold it. You can tell by feeling it, because the seams ridge up. The ends, which are supposed to be round, are kind of square. The difference between a nubby ball and a smooth ball, the nubby balls are bad balls that are not going to go as far. The smooth balls, the way they’re supposed to be, they going to go a lot farther.”

Connor Barth
“It was definitely an adjustment at first. Kicking in college we used Nike balls and for the most part it was pretty broken in compared to what we kick in the NFL now. When I first started kicking the NFL ball I was struggling getting the ball to the five yard line on kickoffs. Barely kicking 50 yards. But it’s all about finding the sweet spot on that new ball. It takes a couple months. But once I got into a rhythm towards the latter part of my workouts for the draft and then when I got to minicamp, I found out how to kick the NFL ball and where that new sweet spot was. For the most part it’s kind of like kicking in college again, because once you find out where to hit the NFL ball, on what sweet spot, it goes pretty far, especially if you have the wind behind you. In the beginning it was kind of frustrating because I wasn’t hitting the ball very far, but once I got used to it, it was an easy adjustment.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CFL Grey Cup K Quotes

The 2009 CFL season concluded with a missed 43 yard FG attempt, a 13 men on the field penalty, and finally a successful 33 yard game-winning FG on the re-kick - as the Montreal Alouettes came from behind for a 28-27 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Kicker Damon Duval discussed the ending sequence:
"The first one, I hate to say it, but I immediately knew I missed it. I was like a bat out of hell and jammed myself.... When I saw the flag I said thank you to the guy upstairs for the second opportunity. As a kicker, you don't get many second chances.... On the next one I just told myself to relax and do my job, like I have my entire career. When we got that flag I had no doubt we were going to walk out with the win."
Riders kicker Luca Congi made four FGs in the game. That of course was far from his mind in light of how the game turned out:
"That's as tough as it comes. I don't think there's a tougher way to lose a game other than what we just saw tonight.... Being a kicker doesn't mean shit. It's about losing the game or winning the game. Yeah, he hit it. It doesn't really matter. We still lose, right? I don't really care how they won. They still won and that's what hurts the most.... It's tough to miss. You get a second chance, you get another kick right off the bat and you're 10 yards closer. It goes from a somewhat medium- to long-range to a shorter-range field goal.... Hats off to them. They battled, they played well -- that's all you can do."

NFL Week Twelve K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week twelve of the 2009 season:
A Long Make: with under four minutes remaining in the game and the score tied, the Bills opted to attempt a 56 yard field goal on 4th-and-9 against the Dolphins. Rian Lindell was good on the tie-breaking kick, which was also a career long. He commented afterward:
“I knew 56 was in my range (heading in that direction), the other way would have been a bit more iffy. It’s funny, I didn’t think of the implications if I missed ... I just felt confident.”
A Short Miss: half way through the fourth quarter, Jaguars' kicker Josh Scobee attempted a proverbial "chip shot" against the 49ers. His 21 yard attempt hit the upright and was no good - his second miss of the game. He discussed the kicks:
“I take full responsibility for it. I won’t make any excuses. In NFL games, things like that happen. I have to go back out there and have confidence in myself that I’m going to get the job done and make my kicks.... The real short one was unacceptable. Plain and simple.... When you hit the ball in the middle of the ball, you don’t give yourself a good chance of going in. I have to look at the tape and see what I did wrong. I have to correct it and move on."
A Good Streak: when Eagles' kicker David Akers hit the 32 yard game winning field goal gainst the Redskins, it was his 16th consecutive field goal made. He put the good time in context:
"I just give thanks for the Eagles letting me stay around. All of a sudden, you miss a couple of kicks next week, you're a bum. I just try to keep an even keel and not get too high....When you're called upon, you don't want to be the person that doesn't help the team out."
A Bad Streak: In Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, Falcons' kicker Jason Elam missed another field goal. Today, Atlanta is trying out some free agent kickers for the second week in a row. However, this week they are also trying out some free agent long snappers, meaning that incumbent Bryan Pittman's job could be in jeopardy. As head coach Mike Smith noted:
"It is an operation. It is a snap, it is a hold and it is a kick. Jason kicked the ball right down the middle on two of his opportunities when the operation was clean."
Elam discussed the most recent miss in the ongoing slump:
"I didn't notice the snap. My timing was fine. It's my responsibility to get the ball between the uprights.... I felt really good on the first two kicks, but I knew I'd missed that one. I have to be more consistent.... I'll definitely look at the film and try to figure out what I'm doing wrong. Every other kick, I felt good about it when I kicked it. I felt that I had good technique and I hit a very clean ball. ... If your technique is good, you shouldn't have to worry about the results. The last ball I kicked, I just didn't feel that I hit it pure and I'll continue to work on that."
Postscript: shortly after making this post, it was announced that Atlanta had released Jason Elam and Bryan Pittman, and replaced them with Matt Bryant and Joe Zelenka.