the study of the kicking components within sports

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dallas' Kicker Market Monopoly

When NFL Europa folded the other year, it eliminated some roster exemptions. Consequently, many teams now carry just one kicker in training camp and preseason, although some teams still opt to include a "camp leg" to share the August work load. Each year there are usually several teams where the job is open to competition. Those teams typically have two kickers, or in rare instances three kickers for awhile. This year's Dallas Cowboys have gone way beyond that. As this is written, they have five kickers on the roster. Who knows... by the time you read this, it could be six or seven.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett:
"We just kind of want to play out this battle, and see these guys kick in games."
Cowboys kicking coach Chris Boniol:
"I want to win games, and I want the ball to go through the uprights every single time. That's why we have a true competition here. Those guys are battling every day. It's stressful. It's mentally and physically a grind. But that's what kicking in the NFL is sometimes, so they're going to have to earn it this year."
David Rayner, the most recent addition to the fivesome:
"I talked to them yesterday and they're pretty excited about me coming in, so I'm just going to try to win the job.... This is a first, we have like a starting five. We can get a basketball team going. But that's obviously going to change in the next week or so. Hopefully, I'm not one of the ones that leaves."
Shayne Graham, who was signed last week:
"I know I'm better than the game I had with the Redskins. The rhythm, the timing wasn't there. I just think about the things that I need to do right, not so much what I did wrong, what I need to fix, but what I need to do to do things right. So that's what I focused on during my time -- kicking well and hitting the ball strong, hitting the ball solid. I'm confident. I know what I can do. I know I'm better than what I showed."
Kai Forbath, who was just placed on the reserve non-football injury list:
"It was an offer I couldn't turn down. They've been taking great care of me here and trying to get me back as fast as possible. They said, 'We want him here to rehab and we're not going pressure him to kick next week.' And it's better than being at home rehabbing and not getting the same type of equipment, treatment and care that I'm getting here.... It's been a little frustrating having to sit and watch all the guys, but my time will come."
Dan Bailey, who was signed just after the lockout ended:
"It's just a reminder that you need to keep working hard and stay focused on what you're doing. You can't let other stuff like that distract you. If anything I think it's been a good thing for all of us, to keep us all focused. Competition's good for everybody."
David Buehler, who handled all the kicking for the Cowboys last year and kickoffs in the prior year:
"I think I've done enough, but I've been out for two weeks so that doesn't help my cause. I understand. Competition is competition. Coach Garrett pushes that. There is competition at every position. Who knew Dre [Andre Gurode] would get cut?... I'm thinking I'm a Dallas Cowboy all the way."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kicking in the 80's

The 1980's gave us Live Aid, cabbage patch dolls, E.T., Dallas, new wave, Reaganomics, personal computers, Rubik's cubes, MTV, Back to the Future, yuppies, Miami Vice, leg warmers, AIDS, hair metal, space shuttles, Trivial Pursuit, Rain Man, Cheers, rap, and the Exxon Valdez.
It also gave us a wealth of kicking moments, records, beginnings, endings, and honors... along with some bad weather.

1980 John Kincheloe made 15 PATs, the most ever in a college game, for Portland State (NCAA Div. 1AA) vs. Delaware State.

1981 QB/K George Blanda elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1981 Wind Chill Bowl (AFC Championship) 1981 - Jim Breech (Cincinnati) vs. Rolf Benirschke (San Diego).

1982 Super Bowl XVI - San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21 49ers kicker Ray Wersching made four field goals (tied for most in one Super Bowl game).

1982 The Snow Plow Game 12/12/82 - John Smith (Patriots) vs. Uwe von Shamann (Dolphins)

1983 Ali Haji-Sheikh made 35 FGs (most by a rookie in a season) for NY Giants.

1983 Mark Moseley attempted 204 kicking points. His 161 points at the time was a record, although it is now third.

1983 Jim Asmus' 57 yarder for the Arizona Wranglers against the  Los Angeles Express is tied (2-way) for the longest FG in USFL history.

1984 Brian Speelman's 57 yarder for the Denver Gold against the Oakland Invaders is tied (2-way) for the longest FG in USFL history.

1984 Uwe von Schamann attempted 70 PATs and was successful on 66 (second most in a season) for Miami.

1985 Dirk Borgognone made a 68 yard FG (longest ever high school kick) in Reno High School's 34-14 win over Sparks HS (Nevada).

1985 Kevin Butler scored 144 points (most in a season by a rookie) for Chicago.

1986 Gerry Foster's 57 yarder for Saint Mary's College against Mt. Allison is the the longest FG in Canadian College (CIS).

1986 Mark Moseley, the NFL's last full-time straight-ahead place kicker, retired.

1987 Punter Steve Cox kicked the last straight-ahead field goal in the NFL.

1988 Fog Bowl 1988 - Luis Zendejas (Philadelphia) vs. Kevin Butler (Chicago).

1989 The NCAA eliminated the use of a tee.

1989 Rich Karlis made seven FGs (5-way tie for second most in one NFL game) for Minnesota against the LA Rams (OT).

Monday, August 29, 2011

NFC East Specialists 2011

The eighth and final segment of our NFL specialists overview...

Dallas Cowboys
At long snapper is veteran starter L.P. Ladouceur. At punter/holder is veteran starter Mat McBriar along with camp leg rookie Chris Jones from Carson Newman. The kicker position holds all the intrigue and competition. Incumbent David Buehler is back. Undrafted rookie Dan Bailey, the 2010 Lou Groza Award winner, from Oklahoma State started camp very strong on field goals but not as well on kickoffs. That prompted owner Jerry Jones to state they could carry two kickers, although coach Jason Garrett said such talk is very premature. Further clouding the picture was the signing of injured undrafted rookie kicker Kai Forbath, the 2009 Lou Groza Award winner, from UCLA. Then things began to get even cloudier. Buehler suffered a hip flexor and has missed the last few preseason games. The Cowboys then added a fourth kicker to the mix, signing veteran Shayne Graham, recently released by the Redskins.

New York Giants
As a rookie, Matt Dodge had a tumultuous 2010, resulting in a fair amount of scrutiny from fans, the media, and his coach. This August he faces competition for his job from veteran Steve Weatherford, a free agent pickup from the Jets. Weatherford said of Dodges rookie season, “I can’t really imagine that. I think Matt’s a stronger person and player for going through that because all of us go through growing pains as a rookie, but his were made public and the way he dealt with it, I’m very impressed with. I feel like mentally you either melt from that or you grow from it. I think he’s chosen the latter.” The other two specialist spots remain the same as the last several years: Lawrence Tynes the kicker and Zak DeOssie the long snapper. Tynes suffered a thigh contusion in the preseason opener. In the interim, the team tried out veterans Shayne Graham and John Kasay, but opted to go with the third candidate – Rhys Lloyd. He’s best known of late for kickoffs, something Dodge had actually been working on recently.

Philadelphia Eagles
Magician / long snapper Jon Dorenbos is still around, but kicker David Akers and punter Sav Rocca are gone via free agency to San Francisco and Washington respectively. Their roles will be filled by a pair of highly touted rookies. The Eagles drafted the top rated kicker in this year’s class, Alex Henery out of Nebraska. He is the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. They also signed undrafted punter Chas Henry from Florida. He won the Ray Guy Award last year. Special teams coordinator Bobby April noted, "They've both been in high-pressure situations, and they have not succumbed to any pressure at this point, and we don't expect they will at any point. That's the good thing about their background…. we're very happy we have them."

Washington Redskins
Incumbent kicker Graham Gano faced veteran competition from Shayne Graham, who ended last year with the Patriots, although the competition didn’t last very long. Gano went 3-of-3 on FGs in the preseason opener. Shayne went 0-of-2 and was subsequently released. The coaches noted however that they may still bring another competitor for Gano. It’s unclear whether recently signed Clint Stitser is that competition, or he was just a fill-in if Gano missed a little time for paternity leave. Despite becoming a dad days earlier, Gano played against the Colts and again went 3-of-3 on FGs. The team also signed free agent punter Sav Rocca, formerly with the division rival Eagles. He is now with the team after initially having been delayed obtaining a visa out of his native Australia. Nick Sundberg is back for his second year at long snapper.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

AFC North Specialists 2011

For the final AFC installment of our specialist overviews, we  head north.

Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are set at kicker, where Billy Cundiff emerged as a Pro Bowler last year and was secured to a long term contract. He recently commented on his long range work for August, “In the preseason, I'm hoping to get a lot of long attempts. I need to continue to get reps in long field goal situations, especially with the way the new kickoff rule is.” The Ravens have no question at punter and holder, roles both handled by Sam Koch. Long snapper Morgan Cox, who suffered a torn ACL last December, was removed from the PUP list and is easing back into practice, “We didn’t want to go gung-ho on the first day. I feel like I could’ve, but it’s one of those things where you want to take it one step at a time. It’s a process.” Undrafted rookie Patrick Scales out of Utah State has been handling the snapping in the interim.

Cincinnati Bengals
Kevin Huber heads into his third season as the Bengals punter and holder. Clark Harris was brought in part way through 2009 and remains the long snapper. At kicker, although Mike Nugent is coming off a season ending torn ACL it doesn’t appear to be an issue. Through the first week of camp he had not missed a single field goal. ST coordinator Darrin Simmons noted, “I like his mental state more than anything. It’s important for him to have success early on but right now his confidence has to be as high as its been.” Undrafted rookie kicker Thomas Weber from Arizona State is the camp leg.

Cleveland Browns
Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand is back, with no questions or concerns. But the other two specialist positions have already been in the spotlight during camp. When the lockout ended, amidst questions and concerns that Phil Dawson might not sign his franchise tag tender, the team signed Jeff Wolfert – the second most accurate kicker in NCAA history and most recently having kicked in the UFL. Dawson has however since signed his contract and rejoined the team. At punter/holder, Reggie Hodges won’t be able to duplicate his breakthrough 2010 season after tearing his Achilles in practice early on in camp. Richmond McGee, most recently with the Bears, was subsequently signed after beating out Rob Long and Scott Crough in a tryout.

Pittsburgh Steelers
After parting ways with kicker Jeff Reed last season, Shaun Suisham was signed to finish the year and then re-signed following the lockout. He recently missed the second preseason game following an appendectomy. Although Suisham is certainly the favorite to keep the job, Swayze Waters has been in various NFL camps in recent years and could conceivably challenge. The biggest question is at punter. Can Dan Sepulveda bounce back from his second serious knee injury? Or, will his replacement from last year, Jeremy Kapinos, retain the job? Sepulveda can look for inspiration via long snapper Greg Warren, who bounced back last year after two years of ACL injuries.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NFC West Specialists 2011

Our NFL specialist journey heads west today, taking a look at the four NFC teams.

Arizona Cardinals
The three Cardinals specialists have 27 combined years of NFL experience (plus 12 years of Australian Rules experience in one case), although they head into just their second year working together. Punter Ben Graham (who also serves as the holder) joined the team late in 2008 and long snapper Mike Leach came on board in 2009. Kicker Jay Feely is the newest, having been signed during the 2010 offseason. The only one facing competition for their job is Graham. Initially it was with undrafted rookie punter Derek Epperson out of Baylor who was signed following the lockout. He was released and today veteran Dave Zastudil was signed.

San Francisco 49ers
The kicking job now belongs to free agent acquisition David Akers, whom the team signed to replace Joe Nedney. Akers noted, “He had such a wonderful career here and what a great guy for the community and what he did for team was amazing. I’m not trying to replace Joe. I’m just trying to come out and do the same thing I was able to do in Philly.” He joins two specialists with whom he worked at prior Pro Bowls: punter/holder Andy Lee and long snapper Brian Jennings. Of them Akers commented, "You know they're easy to work with. And they're true professionals and they'll do whatever they can to help you." Lee bruised his hip in the second preseason game, so the team added Sam Paulescu presumably for the remainder of August.

Seattle Seahawks
Clint Gresham is back for a second season as the long snapper. Back for a fourth year is punter is Jon Ryan, who also serves as the holder. He won’t be holding for Olindo Mare, whom the Panthers signed via free agency. The kicking job belongs to the winner of a competition between Jeff Reed and Brandon Coutu. Reed finished last year with the 49ers after being released midway through the season by the Steelers. Coutu was drafted by the Seahawks back in 2008, but spent the year on the bench behind Mare. The Seahawks opted to go with Reed, releasing Coutu last weekend. Undrafted rookie punter John Gold out of Texas is also on the roster.

St. Louis Rams
Josh Brown is back again at kicker. During the lockout he spent some time conditioning at a local high school, “I bought me some track spikes and I’ve been running with the track team a little bit. It’s a good time. I’m definitely the slowest guy out there. But you know, I’m trying to stay in shape.” Brown hit a big FG in each of the first two preseason games. Against the Colts he hit a 60 yarder at the end of the first half. Against the Titans he hit a 42 yard game winner on the final play of the game. Donnie Jones is back again at punter. The team released veteran long snapper Chris Massey earlier this week, leaving the job to Jake McQuaide, an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

AFC South Specialists 2011

The second half of our NFL specialists overviews series begins in the AFC South division.

Houston Texans
Veteran punter Matt Turk is gone via free agency to the Jaguars. Competing to fill that role are veteran fee agent Brad Maynard from the Bears and undrafted rookie Brett Hartman from Central Michigan. Whoever wins the job will work as the holder with kicker Neil Rackers and long snapper Jon Weeks. Rackers is working on welcoming the newcomers with food as he had been taught by Doug Pelfrey, "Doug took me out to eat a lot. We did things together. He was a stellar guy, just phenomenal. If you make someone feel comfortable, it will be easier for him to do his job, so that's what I'm trying to do." Weeks recently sprained his ankle, so the Texans added Scott Albritton.

Indianapolis Colts
The Colts kept free agent kicker Adam Vinatieri in the fold, re-signing him to a three-year deal. As always, Justin Snow is the long snapper. Pat McAfee enters his second third as the Colts punter, holder, and kickoff specialist. He’s also been practicing his placekicking (something he had done in college), including from extra long range (up to 75 yards), “I was working hard on field goals this offseason because Vinatieri’s contract was up and I didn’t know what was going to happen there. We re-signed him. Obviously, he’s one the greatest of all time, and I would never want to compete with him. He’s one of my close friends. But I’m ready to do it whenever I have to.” Undrafted rookie punter Travis Baltz from Maryland is the camp leg.

Jacksonville Jaguars
With punter Adam Podlesh gone via free agency to Chicago, the team signed two punters – the younger Durant Brooks and the elder Matt Turk, who was with the Texans the last four years. Brooks was subsequently released and replaced with Brent Bowden, a sixth round draft pick by Tampa Bay last year. Whoever wins the job will also serve as holder, joining long snapper Jeremy Cain and kicker Josh Scobee on placekicking plays. HC Jack Del Rio’s goal for Scobee is 90% on FGs, “We're looking for him to sustain what he did in the first half, when he was [at a] Pro Bowl level, one of the dominant players at his position. We think he's a talent… I'm taking away those 59-yarders unless we have to have it to win a game.” Sam Swank was a late roster addition to back up Scobee on kicking.

Tennessee Titans
Veteran kicker Rob Bironas is the only kicker on the roster in camp. The same cannot be said for punter Brett Kern, who is joined on the roster by undrafted rookie Chad Cunningham from the University of Tennessee. Nor can the same can be said for veteran long snapper Ken Amato, who is joined on the roster by rookie John Stokes from Vanderbilt. Early in camp, Cunningham and Stokes missed practice due to injury. Head coach Mike Munchak has a hands-off approach to the kicking game, "I have no idea what camp is like for a kicker. I just hope that he is getting enough work out here. We have confidence that when the time comes and we start playing he will be on his game."

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newest Fad: Become a Dad, Kick Three Field Goals

A busy week for two NFL kickers culminated Friday evening with three field goals apiece. In Jacksonville's 15-13 win over Atlanta, Josh Scobee made field goals of 26, 54 and 28 yards. In Washington's 16-3 win over Indianapolis, Graham Gano made field goals of 28, 27 & 26 yards. While kicking success and a team victory is all well and good, the big news for both players occurred earlier in the week.

On Monday, Josh Scobee's wife gave birth to their first child, Jacob Scobee. Following the game, Josh tweeted:
"My first game as a Daddy was a good one! I had some extra incentive out there tonight! Now I'm holding my son while he sleeps!"
On Wednesday, Graham Gano's wife gave birth to Bryson Clark Gano. Following the game, Graham commented:
“He was definitely on my mind, him and my wife, while I was out there. But at the same time, I’m fully focused on kicking the ball.”
Foremost, congratulations to the Scobees and the Ganos. Secondarily, this raises an intriguing question: is becoming a dad and then kicking three field goals just a fleeting fad, or is it the start of an emerging long term trend?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

NFC North Specialists 2011

We head north, NFC style, in our continuing overview of this year's  NFL specialists:

Chicago Bears
Two of the three Bears starting specialists remain the same - long snapper Patrick Mannelly and kicker Robbie Gould. The change is at punter/holder where the team parted ways with Brad Maynard and snagged Adam Podlesh from the Jaguars via free agency. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub noted, “[Podlesh] was always our No. 1 guy. As soon as we were able to call him, we tried to recruit him. He fits us. He’s very athletic, he runs a 4.4, he’s got great hands, and he’s a directional punter. He’s a young Maynard is what he is. He’s reaching his prime right now.” Undrafted rookie Spencer Lanning out of South Carolina is the camp leg for both kicking and punting.

Detroit Lions
Veteran long snapper Don Muhlbach does not have any competition in camp. Veteran kicker Jason HansonNick Harris do. Hanson can certainly still kick, but he’ll need to show no lingering effects from injuries that caused him to miss games each of the last two years. If his health is still questionable that could open the door for last year’s injury replacement, journeyman Dave Rayner, to retain the job. Harris faces undrafted rookie challenger Ryan Donahue out of Iowa, one of the top rated punters in this year’s class. and veteran punter/holder

Green Bay Packers
The Packers enter camp with three specialists, all the same starters as last year. Brett Goode is back at long snapper and punter/holder Tim Masthay is coming off a 2010 season where he finished strong during the playoffs. Kicker Mason Crosby became a free agent under the new CBA; however the team quickly re-signed him to a new 5-year deal. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said of Crosby, "Mason's been very solid. The one quality I think is really good is he rarely misses two in a row…. He needs to take the next step in his future making walk-off field goals. I would like our kicker to be 90%.... We have a difficult place to kick in Lambeau."

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings did not lose kicker Ryan Longwell to free agency, re-signing him to a 4-year deal. Longwell was happy, "[My wife] Sarah and I are really excited to be back with the Vikings. It was our intention all along to stay if we could, so we feel so blessed it worked out this way. I'm a big believer in the way Coach [Leslie] Frazier approaches life and football, so I can't wait to get to work." The other two specialists also remain the same this year: long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who had a quiet summer, and punter/holder Chris Kluwe, who significantly increased his media presence this summer. Camp leg duties belong to Nate Whitaker, an undrafted rookie out of Stanford.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kicking in the 50's

In today's decade installment we travel back to the 1950's, a time when football was still rooted in the old ways, however the winds of change were just starting to blow. Baseball was still America's favorite past time, but that would soon change. Professional football was still confined to the United States, but that would soon change. Kickers were still positional offensive and/or defensive players that also happened to kick, but that would soon change. Kicking was still a straight ahead affair, but that would soon change.

1950 Bob Waterfield made nine PATs (3-way tie for most in one NFL game) for Los Angeles against Baltimore.

1951 Lou Groza’s 52 yard FG in the Cleveland Browns’ 17-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the longest in an NFL Championship game.

Bert Rechicher kicked a 56 yard FG in the Baltimore Colts 13-9 win over the Chicago Bears. It was then the longest FG in NFL history, a record that would stand until Tom Dempsey’s kick in 1970. Rechicher accounted for all of the Colts’ points in the game, including an interception return TD.

1954 Fred Bednarski of Travis High School (Texas) was the first soccer style kicker. He went on to kick for the University of Texas from 1956 to 1958.

1956 NFL rule change: the use of an artificial medium to assist in the execution of a kick was no longer allowed (a.k.a. the Lou Groza Rule).
“Groza would always carry a 72-inch (1.8 m) rolled piece of adhesive tape in his helmet. Before each kick attempt, he would use it as a directional aid by unrolling the tape on the ground from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball would be spotted for the kick.”
1958 New York' kicker Pat Summerall hit a 49 yard game winning FG over Cleveland, setting up a playoff rematch between the Giants and the Browns the following week. 

1958 Baltimore Colts' kicker Steve Myhra kicked a 20 yard FG in the final seconds of regulation to tie the score in the Best Game Ever Played, setting up the first ever sudden death overtime.

1958 The CFL (Canadian Football League) was founded. Its roots go back to the rugby version of football played in Canada in the 1860s. Some kicking rules differences from the NFL include: scoring of one point for a Single or Rouge (if the player receiving a live kick fails to return it out of the end zone, or (except on a kickoff) if the ball was kicked through the end zone); following a field goal, opposing teams can opt to receive a kickoff or take the ball at their own 35-yard line; a free kick is allowed from anywhere on the field (not just behind the line of scrimmage); goal posts are on the goal line.

1959 The NCAA increased the width of goal posts to 23' 4".

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

AFC East Specialists 2011

Who are the NFL specialists in the AFC East division this year?

Buffalo Bills
Once again, all three starting specialists are back for the Bills: long snapper Garrison Sanborn, punter/holder Brian Moorman, and kicker Rian Lindell. But in an unusual turn, each role also has an undrafted rookie in camp: long snapper Danny Aiken from Virginia, punter Reid Forrest from Washington State, and kicker Chris Hazley from Virginia Tech. All three are likely just camp legs or wrists, including Reid who nonetheless was typically ranked in the top five among this year’s punting prospects and who, like Moorman, gets good hang time on his punts.

Miami Dolphins
Entering camp for the second straight year, long snapper John Denney, punter Brandon Fields and kicker Dan Carpenter are the only players at their respective positions on the roster. For 2011, Carpenter’s goal of being needed less may initially seem odd, but in the team context it is probably the goal of every kicker, “We want to score more touchdowns. I think it’s pretty safe to say the more points you score the better chance you have to win. There are so many games in this league that are settled by three points or less. But seven points is always better than three.”

New England Patriots
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is back after missing the second half of last year with a torn quad. ST coordinator Scott O’Brien noted, “(We’re) starting him off with the field goals because we want to get him back in the timing, the operation of everything. When he goes to kick off, it’s just him and the ball, and he’s got his rhythm. He can do that on his own. The priority was to get him back and evaluate where he is at, but also to (work on his) timing, to get him back with the snapper, get him back with the holder, and start with that.” The long snapper is Matt Katula who came on board last year after Gostkowski’s injury and the holder is once again punter Zoltan Mesko. Undrafted rookie Chris Koepplin from UMass has been handling kickoffs for now.

New York Jets
Tanner Purdum is back for a second year at long snapper. He was recently joined in camp by rookie Wilson Raynor out of East Carolina. The other two specialist roles are up for competition during August. At punter, T.J. Conley is back for his third consecutive camp and hoping the third time is a proverbial charm. His competition is Australian Chris Bryan who punted for Tampa Bay last September. At kicker, Nick Folk was re-signed to a one-year deal, but he’ll have to win the right to keep his job. He’ll be challenged by a resurgent Nick Novak who is coming off a strong showing in the UFL last year.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

NFC South Specialists 2011

Our preseason tour of NFL specialists swings through the NFC South:

Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons entered camp with five specialists on the roster. Only two were with the team last year: long snapper Joe Zelenka and kicker Matt Bryant. Signed for the final five games of 2009 to replace the eventually retiring Jason Elam, would-be free agent Bryant was re-signed following the lockout. Gone via free agency is punter/holder/kickoff-specialist Michael Koenen. Competing to replace him are rookie Matt Bosher, whom the Falcons drafted out of Miami FL, and Ken Parrish, who has impressed in NFL camps in recent years plus has UFL experience. Undrafted rookie snapper Andrew Schulze out of Iowa rounds out the quintet.

Carolina Panthers
Since the beginning of time, John Kasay was the Panthers kicker. But that changes this year, as the team no longer wanted to carry a second kicker to handle kickoffs, as they had done in recent years with Rhys Lloyd. They splurged in free agency on a kicker who has done well in both roles – Olindo Mare. The other two specialist jobs for the Panthers will remain the same as the last few years: J.J. Jansen will again be the long snapper and Jason Baker the punter and holder. Two undrafted rookies are serving as camp legs: kicker Adi Kunalic from Nebraska and punter Anthony Santella from Illinois.

New Orleans Saints
Two of 2009’s playoff heroes are secure in their specialist roles as the Saints enter training camp. Garrett Hartley will handle the placekicking while Thomas Morstead will again handle the punting, kickoffs and holding. The long snapping position has been less stable. Last year they went through Kevin Houser, Jason Kyle, Jake Ingram, and ended with Justin Drescher. Kyle was cut from the team this July after failing a physical. That leaves Drescher with the starting job, unless undrafted rookie Kyle Nelson out of New Mexico State can unseat him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs grabbed free agent Michael Koenen from the division rival Falcons. He handles punting, kickoffs, and holding. He’s backed up in camp by Robert Malone from Fresno State. After going through several kickers during the first half of 2009, Connor Barth secured the job for the second half and remains the starter. He’s joined in camp by the recently signed undrafted rookie Jacob Rogers out of Cincinnati. Andrew Economos tore his Achilles tendon during the lockout, but is hoping to be ready for the season opener. Handling the snapping in camp is undrafted rookie Christian Yount out of UCLA.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

ArenaBowl XXIV: Marco Capozzoli & Jason Witczak

ArenaBowl XXIV kicks off tonight at 8:30 pm ET with the Arizona Rattlers hosting the Jacksonville Sharks. In preparation for the big game, we spoke to the key player from each team.


How did you end up with Tulsa last year to start out your arena career?
“It actually happened out of the blue. I was talking to my agent about the arena league and he stated that it would probably be hard to get in since they were already half way through their season. I was taking my LSAT and right when I got out I had a call from an unknown number. Listened to the voicemail and it was head coach Mitch Allner asking me if I was interested in coming out there for a workout. They needed an emergency kicker because their kicker was struggling. I flew out there the next day, practiced on Wednesday (kicked with the team), then we bussed out to Dallas on Thursday, and then I kicked in my first arena game on Friday and went 10 for 10 on extra points. I stuck there the whole season.“

How long did it take to adjust to some of the difference s in arena ball as compared to college or high school ball?
“I didn’t really have much time, I only had a day to adjust to it. It’s a lot different in terms of the fast paced game, but in terms of kicking I think the biggest difference is it’s just a lot more kicking! In the outdoor games you’re used to hitting about four kickoffs maybe and then you’re lucky if you hit four extra points or a field goal throughout a whole game. In the arena league you’re kicking about twenty times, including ten kickoffs and ten extra points, and maybe some field goals throughout. Being on a high powered offense like the Sharks I’m out there quite often. I think that’s the biggest difference to adjust to besides the small uprights (and that’s just hitting a perfect ball).”

Looking back over your entire football career, does a particular kick come to mind as your biggest kick?
“In my college career it would have to be a game winner against Brockport. It was I believe a 42 yarder with two seconds left. It was a tie game and that won the game. In terms of my professional career I’d have to say that last game, the conference championship, where I hit the 36 yard field goal with under a minute left to basically seal the deal and help my team to get to the Arena Bowl was probably the biggest kick of my career.”

For this current week heading into the championship game, what does the life of an arena kicker look like?
“It really hasn’t changed anything since the beginning of the season. Just go out there and do our thing. We have to practice just like it’s any other regular game. You can’t get caught up in all the hype. We have media day coming up and all that. Coming from a small school, this is something that I always dreamt about, just playing in a big game where media’s all around you. The newspapers and TV stations are at every practice. You just want to stay balanced and level minded throughout the whole thing. Just go out there and do what we’ve been doing all season.”


When you rejoined the Rattlers a couple weeks ago, it was your fourth time with the team?
“Yes, this is my fourth stint with the team. I basically hadn’t pursued football in the past twelve months. I kind of got tired of all the political stuff. I’ve been focusing more on golf and World Long Drives tour events in the past year and I’ve done pretty well. I got the call probably two weeks before my return to see if I was interested. I kicked a couple balls. I kicked probably three days in a row and my body felt pretty good. I decided to give it a comeback and it was like I never missed a beat. It’s a pretty cool feeling.“

Are you working with the same snapper and holder as the last time?
“I had never seen the snapper or holder. They’re pretty good. In Arena I’ve gone through so many different snappers and holders. It’s just part of being a kicker and a lot of the younger guys I think struggle with that. My most important thing is to be on the same page and have a really good relationship with my holder. I think we’ve done a really good job. The snapper is one of the better ones around. We have pretty good continuity right now.”

It didn’t take too long to get in sync with them?
“It probably took about two kicks. It was like I really had never even missed a day. It’s kind of weird… even my mind was thinking the same thing, talking to myself and my routine, all my little mannerisms that I do that are all the same exact thing that I’ve done my whole career. It’s like an alive feeling. It’s going to be hard to retire again.”

Speaking of retirement, two of your prior times with the Rattlers ended with ACL injuries. After either or both of those did you consider retiring from football at those junctures?
“No, I never really did think about it. The thing that kind of made me retire last year was I had a couple of really good workouts… the Baltimore Ravens flew me in last year and [special teams coordinator Jerry] Rosburg told me I was one of the most talented kickers he’s ever seen. I got excited again like I did back in ‘01’, 02 and ’03 when I had all my NFL opportunities. Once again I was let down by them not bringing me in and bringing in a veteran. That always happens. Then I worked out for a UFL team, Las Vegas. In the open workout for them I went 15 for 15. I kicked better than I ever have. It was the day after an arena game last year. Then they brought me back for private workout and I went 15 for 15 again in front of them. They told me I was the most accurate kicker they’d ever seen, but they were worried about my age and they were worried that I was a liability. You have no control of it. You see it a lot in kickers because they’re so singled out, but there’s a lot of other position players that are just as good and don’t get shots. After awhile (this is my eleventh professional season, sixth in arena) it just wears on you mentally. I’ve got a family now, so at that time last year I decided it was time to let it go. I left the Rattlers on good terms. [GM / head coach Kevin Guy] knows that he can trust me and brought me back for my experience. I’ve got a really good relationship with coach Guy and he’s awesome to play for. The opportunity to win a title is why I am back.”

Looking back over your entire career, does a particular kick come to mind as your biggest kick?
“Probably that 57 yarder that I hit in Nashville. Then I hit a four pointer to win a game when I was with the Barcelona Dragons in ’03 against my former team from the year before, the Rhein Fire. Those are probably my two most memorable kicks.”

Can you give us an idea of what your itinerary looks like this week heading into the championship game… the life of an AFL kicker heading into the big game?
“I’m on hole number one right now, enjoying a round of golf with one of my buddies. Tomorrow I have daddy day care... I have my son all day while my wife works. My parents fly in. Then we’ve got the AFL awards banquet. Then on game day for home games I always stick to my routine… I’ll go to the golf course, hit a bucket of balls, putt for a little while, go home, take a nap, cook a steak, and then head down to the game.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

AFC West Specialists 2011

The NFL lockout is over, the free agent signing frenzy has slowed to a trickle, training camps are underway, and the preseason kicks off tonight. We begin our division-by-division overview of this year's specialists. Reversing the usual direction of travel, we start in the AFC West.

Denver Broncos
Heading into 2011, the Broncos still have Lonie Paxton as their long snapper and Britton Colquitt as their punter/holder. They enter camp with two kickers on the roster – starter Matt Prater, whose 2010 ended on IR with a groin injury, and Steven Hauschka, his injury replacement. Prater, a restricted free agent, couldn’t practice with team right away after resigning due to the post lockout rules, "I'd like to get as many reps as I can before we start playing games. Guess I'll get some work done outside the facility on my own." He has since rejoined the team and does not appear to be hampered by any lingering injury effects.

Kansas City Chiefs
The returning starters will spend camp getting in their reps and honing their synchronization under the tutelage of special teams coordinator (and kicking guru) Steve Hoffman. Long snapper Thomas Gafford is back for his fourth year. The veteran of the trio, punter and holder Dustin Colquitt is entering his seventh year. Kicker Ryan Succop enters his third year. HC Todd Haley is hoping to utilize Succop’s high hang time kickoffs under the new rules, “We’re excited about Ryan’s skills and how they’ll potentially play into that one way or another, whatever philosophy you take as a kickoff team.” Succop’s now joined by recently signed camp leg Todd Carter, who would have been the Panthers kickoff specialist last year were it not for an injury.

Oakland Raiders
All three of the Raiders specialist stalwarts are back for 2011. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski continues to keep a low profile. Punter Shane Lechler continues to be mentioned in the media for his prescient comments made back when Tom Cable was fired. Long snapper Jon Condo will continue snapping after being re-signed following the lockout. The only other specialist on the roster in camp is punter Glenn Pakulak, who’s now probably better known for venturing into the reality television scene via Most Eligible Dallas.

San Diego Chargers
The Chargers had an apparent long snapper injury curse last year. Long time veteran David Binn is expected to resume the role this year. One of last year’s subsequent injury fill-ins, Mike Windt, remains on the roster heading into camp. The team is set as always with the other two specialists: kicker Nate Kaeding and punter Mike Scifres. Camp leg services are being provided by Ricky Schmitt. All are working under new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, about whom Binn commented, “He’s real intense and detail-oriented. I like him. I think he’s got high energy and he’s demanding, which is a good thing. I expect that our special teams will be very good this year.”

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kicking in the 90's

We're now a decade removed from the 1990's, however it still seems like it was only yesterday. The decade began with a rare honor for a kicker and ended in infamy.

1991 Jan Stenerud was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (only player that was solely a kicker).

1991 NCAA decreased the width of goal posts to 18' 6".

1991 Pete Stoyanovich’s 58 yarder in Miami’s 17-16 win over Kansas City is the longest FG in an NFL playoff game.

1991 Super Bowl XXV - NY Giants 20, Buffalo 19: Giants kicker Matt Bahr made what would prove to be a game winning 21 yard field in the fourth quarter. But the kick that will always be remembered is the 47 yard field goal attempt with eight seconds remaining by Bills kicker Scott Norwood. It was "wide right".

1991 World League of American Football (WLAF.): longest FG in league history was 54 yards by Phil Alexander, London Monarchs v. Merton Admirals.

1992 Sandy Tregarthen of Harbor College (L.A.) became the first female to play & score (one PAT) in Junior College game, in 24-21 win over Compton College.

1992 Joe Allison (Memphis State) had his appendix removed several hours after winning the inaugural Lou Groza Award.

1993 Steve Christie's 32 yd FG capped the biggest comeback in NFL history, as the Bills beat the Oilers in the playoffs.

1993-2002 Jason Elam was successful on 371 straight PAT attempts (2-way tie for second most consecutive in NFL) for Denver.

1994 NFL rule changes: Added the option of the two-point conversion after touchdowns; the starting point of all kickoffs was moved back from the 35 to the 30-yard line; kickoff tees used can be no more than one inch in height (previously 3 inches); all field goals attempted and missed when the spot of the kick is beyond the 20 yard line, the defensive team taking possession will get the ball at the spot of the kick; on any field goal attempted and missed with the spot of the kick is on or inside the 20, the ball will go to the defensive team taking possession at the 20; and the 11 players on the receiving team are prohibited from blocking below the waste during a play in which there is a kickoff, safety kick, punt, field goal attempt or extra point kick with one exception, immediately at the snap on these plays those defenders on the line of scrimmage lined up on or inside the normal tight end position can block low.

1994 Super Bowl XXVIII - Dallas 30, Buffalo 13: Steve Christie's 54 yard field goal was and remains the longest in Super Bowl History.

1995 Carlos Huerta made a 53 yard FG, the longest in CFL Grey Cup history, for the Baltimore Stallions in 37-20 win over the Calgary Stampeders.

1995 Morten Andersen made eight 50+ yard FGs (2-way tie for most in an NFL season) for Atlanta. Three were against New Orleans (3-way tie for most in one game).

1996 Chris Boniol made seven FGs (5-way tie for second most in one NFL game) for Dallas against Green Bay.

1996 The NFL Longest FG to win in overtime was a 53 yarder by Chris Jacke, in the Green Bay Packers 23-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

1996-2009 Matt Stover was successful on 422 straight PAT attempts (most consecutive in NFL) for Baltimore… the streak is still alive heading into 2010.

1997 Liz Heaston of Willamette University became the first female to score in college game (NCAA Division III), with two PATs in 27-0 win over Linfield College.

1998 Martin Gramatica’s 65 yard FG in Kansas State’s 73-7 win over Northern Illinois, was the longest in college history without the use of a tee.

1998 Gary Anderson was perfect on all 35 FGs. He scored 164 points (most in an NFL season).

1998 Super Bowl XXXII - Denver 31, Green Bay 24 Jason Elam's 51 yard field goal was and remains the second longest in Super Bowl History.

1998 Jason Elam made a 63 yard FG (2-way tie for longest in NFL) for Denver against Jacksonville.

1999 NFL rule change: the dreaded K-ball was implemented for all kicking plays in a game.