the study of the kicking components within sports

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Brief History of the Evolution of Specialization

When American football developed in the latter part of the 19th century, there was no separate kicker position. Kicking tasks were handled by players who also had full time roles on both offense and defense. Needless to say, the players spent little to no time studying, practicing, and perfecting kicking.

Injury played a key role in the stories of two of the first kicking specialists. Ben "The Toeless Wonder" Agajanian lost four toes from his kicking foot in work accident during college. Despite that, he went on to kick for numerous pro teams in the AAFC, NFL, and AFL during a creer that spanned over two decades. The Cleveland Browns’ Lou "The Toe" Groza was a Pro Bowl offensive lineman and kicker. A back injury in 1960 ended his ability to play on the line, but he continued to kick until 1967. The idea of having a player dedicated solely to kicking quickly caught on.

It was also not until recent decades, that professional football players, and especially kickers, made enough money to make a living playing football. Previously players had to work other jobs during the off-season and in many cases also during the football season. Now that the position of kicker actually exists and can afford to work on kicking year round, they are able to focus on studying, practicing, and perfecting kicking.

Specialization of others has also helped to improve kicking. While the kicker is the one who puts his foot on the ball in the end, the long snapper and holder are vital members of the placekicking process. While holding is still handled as a secondary task by someone with another job, long snapping became a specialized role back in the 1970’s. It was not until 2005 that long snapping was recognized for a Pro Bowl spot. In some instances, teams also divide placekicking and kickoffs into two separate jobs. Although roster limitations make this a rarity in the NFL, it occurs more often at the college level.

The creation of specialized roles also spread to the coaching ranks. In 1969, The Los Angeles Rams hired Dick Vermeil as their special teams coordinator – a position that had never previously existing in the NFL. More recently, some teams have also included a separate kicking coach or consultant. Steve Hoffman, currently the special teams coordinator for the Raiders, is one of the most notable examples. Kickers John Carney and Chris Boniol have recently dabbled in a consulting role.

As a result of all these developments, people can now spend their time devoted to primarily one thing – kicking.

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