the study of all things kicker related

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Pangaea Cup?

One of the biggest remaining unanswered questions in the world of soccer is whether there was indeed a Pangaea Cup roughly 250 million years ago - at the time when there was only one continent on the planet. Scientists have yet to uncover any evidence that soccer balls existed during that period. Even if they did, it is debatable whether the reptilian life forms at that time were adept enough to kick a ball.

Since that time, two significant changes have occurred. Firstly, the tectonic plates have torn apart Pangaea and shifted the ever moving continents to their present day locations. Secondly, humans evolved, spread about the planet, and established ever changing political entities (including nations). As a result, there are now plenty of Cups to keep us entertained.

Last week, the United States won the 2011 Four Nations Tournament, with a 2-0 victory over China in the finals. Canada and Sweden were the other two nations in the tournament. Carli Lloyd scored the opening goal for the Americans. Amy Rodriguez added the final goal:
"At that point, we were winning 1-0 and playing decently. I just saw Tobin Heath on the wing, and decided to do a fade-out bending run. With her technique she was able to play that ball in behind and I was able to slip the ball into the net. It was exciting."
Yesterday, Japan won the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011, with a 1-0 victory over Australia. Several years ago, the Aussies intentionally drifted into the Asian Football Confederation from the Oceania Football Confederation (in a membership sense, not in a continental sense). The match went into a second extra period before Tadanari Lee scored the first and decisive goal.
"I feel super. I could not play for such a long time and I had to keep on waiting, believing that there would be a chance for me. I could score a goal in the end and I'm really happy....
I kept talking to myself, saying 'I'll be a hero. I'll be a hero' before I went onto the pitch....
I'm really happy that I was able to stand on this pitch. I really want to thank everyone. We'll have to work hard as the Asian champions and I want you, the fans, all to support the Japanese national team."

Monday, January 24, 2011

NFC Conference Championship Kicks

Two kicking story lines emerged from yesterday's NFC Championship game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. 

In both cases it was more about what didn't happen rather than what did happen.

What didn't happen? The kickers didn't attempt any field goals. Chicago did have two potential opportunities in the first half, however they opted to punt in each case, rather than trying field goals of 52 and 49 yards. As anticipated in the week leading up to the game, the weather played a factor. After the game, Robbie Gould discussed the decisions:
"The wind was blowing in my face. It could have gone either way. They made a decision to punt it, which I thought was a good decision, considering we’ve done a great job of putting them down inside the five and try to create a little more momentum for our defense and maybe create a turnover.... But you’ve got to play the percentages. I think it was a good call, I really do."
What else didn't happen? Feared return specialist Devin Hester didn't rip off any damaging punt returns - as the Packers coverage team kept him in check and punter Tim Masthay had a big game. Of the eight punts, five were downed inside the twenty yard line. Late in the game, with the Bears trying to rally, Masthay hit a well placed 58 yarder.
“I hit it pretty much on the button. It was a big play for us. Happy the guys got down and covered it great like they had all night. Flipped the field when we needed to."
Masthay's big game was even more impressive given the weather conditions:
“The wind was blowing right and that was the first punt. I didn’t hit it directionally like I wanted to. I still hit a decent ball but didn’t hit it as well directionally and the wind didn’t take it. That was kind of an example – a good hit that wound up in the middle and our guys covered really well."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How 'bout This Weather?


Heinz Field. Soldier Field. January.

It's no surprise that much of the talk leading up to today's two NFL conference championship games has focused on weather.

Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
"It's always a tough place to go and kick, especially late in the year. The field conditions, people talk about that, but both teams have to play on it. Robbie does a good job kicking over there....
My plant foot is crucial in what I do. I'll see what cleats I need to wear, if I need to go with seven-stud with a longer cleat if the grass and the field indicate that. I'll just walk around, get a feel for it, get used to the elements we're going to be playing in. It's just like any other game. Just hit some balls, see if the wind is blowing it and then trust it once game time comes that you're going to hit the ball and it's going to go where you need it to go."
Nick Folk, New York Jets
“The weather can be nasty and turn at any time. The field can be pretty bad. Luckily, the two times I’ve been there it’s been pretty nice. It looked like it held up pretty well last week when they were playing, so we’ll see what happens this week.”
Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh Steelers
“I think being Canadian, it’s not like you like cold weather. You just learn how to dress in it. You wear the right clothes....
Every game that I’ve been here this year has been cold. Certainly, it sounds like this game will be the coldest.”
Tim Masthay, Green Bay Packers
"There's one kind of turtleneck that we have and it's more comfortable, so I wear two of them. We have another one that's like wool, and scratchy, and it's warmer - but I don't like that one. I wear the pants. I didn't wear them the first game and I could tell my hamstrings were locking up on the sidelines. The second game I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, why didn't I wear these before?'....
I stuff the hand warmer with as many heating packs as I can. I use four....
Football is meant to be played outside, in the cold, in these kinds of games. I almost kind of don't mind it. It's almost kind of fun."
Robbie Gould, Chicago Bears
“You know it’s going to be cold, you know it’s going to be windy, you know the conditions on the field are potentially not going to be great....
You change your shoe accordingly, if you have to you change your technique just enough to make sure you stay consistent. Shorten your steps, stay a little more upright so you don’t sink underneath the kick. It depends on the day. Depends on what you need to do to accommodate....
You figure out how far [the wind is blowing] and you base it upon the goal post. You judge those accordingly. A certain wind-type, whether a left-to-right wind, with the way I kick isn’t going to move the ball as much as it will if I’m going right to left. It’s like golf. You know your swing. You know your routine. You know how you have to adjust in order to be successful at your job....
I’m not worried about the conditions, I’ve done this a million times. There’s always a time you might under-judge the wind or over-judge the wind. Going out in pregame warm-up you’re going to find a comfortable level of how far the wind is blowing and trust that it’s going to be that far.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kicking at the Alamo

Lots of kicking, punting, and snapping occurred the weekend of January 8th-9th in San Antonio, Texas at the famous Alamo Stadium. The National Camp Series put on Super Camp V, a high school event for snappers, kickers and punters looking to get high level instruction and position themselves to play at the college level. The weather held up for the most part, being breezy and averaging in the low 50’s. Campers had hands on training and evaluation from an amazing group of instructors including former NFL, current UFL, college kickers, punters and long snappers. Big names such as Craig Hentrich, Michael Husted, Louie Aguiar, Mike Hollis, Lee McDonald, Tom Feely, Dan Orner, Chris Shaw, Nick Novak and many others provided well over 40 years of NFL experience and knowledge.
"The quality of instructors for our Super Camp continues to grow every year. Our network is committed to helping young athletes learn proper technique as well as to help them navigate through the recruiting process so that they can leverage their sport to get a college education."
- Michael Husted, NCS founder and former NFL kicker
The 2011 class had a very strong showing throughout the camp, with many proving they can take their skills to the next level. This year’s class includes a solid group of kickers and punters who can make an immediate impact on a division 1 roster.

Class of 2011 "Significant 7" list includes:
  1. Will Johnson, 6’3, 190 lbs, Kicker, Earl Rudder High School, Bryan, TX
  2. Zachary Douglas, Kicker, 6’3, 190 lbs, Fort Meyers HS, Fort Meyers, FL
  3. Chad Levin, Kicker, 5’9, 165 lbs, Bentonville HS, Rogers, AR
  4. Will Conant, Kicker, 6’2, 195 lbs, Edmond Memorial HS, Edmond, OK
  5. Kyle Lawrence, Kicker, 5’7” 145 lbs, Kecoughtan HS, Hampton, VA
  6. Patrick Toole, Kicker, 5’9, 160 lbs, Wallkill HS, Wallkill, NY
  7. Lawson Furr, Kicker, 5’10”, 175 lbs, Mount Tabor HS, Winston Salem, VA
Campers from the classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014 also were able to display their skills. The kickers and punters from all four graduating classes were evaluated using NCS’ objective point system platform. During the charting, each NFL associate closely observed their performance and assigned character ratings based upon strength, technique, and mental toughness.

For additional info, see the full press release.

This article sponsored by the National Camp Series.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The 2011 "Off"- Season

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, it may seem like another football season is almost over, but there will still be plenty of football and consequently kicking in the so-called off-season:

NCAA College football
East-West Shrine Game
January 22nd at 4 p.m. EST
- East squad: kicker Wes Byrum (Auburn) and punter Ryan Donahue (Iowa)
- West squad: kicker Dan Bailey (Oklahoma State) and punter Trevor Hankins (Arizona)
Under Armour Senior Bowl: January 29th at 4 p.m. EST
- Kickers Josh Jasper (LSU) and Kai Forbath (UCLA)
- Punters Chas Henry (Florida) and Alex Henery (Nebraska)
NFLPA (Texas vs. The Nation) Game: February 5th at 2 p.m. EST
- Texas squad: K Thomas Weber (Arizona State), P Derek Epperson (Baylor), and LS Larry Flaherty (Princeton)
- Nation squad: K Jacob Rogers (Cincinnati), P Matt Bosher (Miami FL), and LS Corey Adams (Kansas State)
Dixie Grid Iron Classic: February 5th
- Kickers Mitch Payne (BYU) and Bruno Cunha
- Punters Michael Langston (Dixie State) and Patrick Dolan (Nicholls State)
Pro Days Workouts: primarily in March

National Football League (NFL)
NFL Scouting Combine: February 23rd - March 1st
- kickers: Dan Bailey (Oklahoma State), Kai Forbath (UCLA), Alex Henery (Nebraska), Josh Jasper (LSU), Jake Rogers (Cincinnati)
- punters: Matt Bosher (Miami FL), Ryan Donahue (Iowa), Reid Forrest (Washington State), Chas Henry (Florida)
- snappers: Danny Aiken (Virginia)
Free agent signing period begins March 3rd (unless a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached and the Lockout occurs)
NFL Draft: April 28th-30th
Minicamps and OTAs: primarily May & June

Canadian Football League (CFL)
CFL Evaluation Camp, March 4th -6th
- top kicking prospect: Hugh O’Neill, Alberta
CFL Draft: May 8th
 
Indoor Football Leagues
Arena Football League (AFL): season kicks off on March 11th
American Indoor Football Association (AIFA): season kicks off in March
- only the West division remains this year, as the East division merged into the SIFL
Indoor Football League (IFL): exhibition season begins in February
Southern Indoor Football League (SIFL): season kicks off March 18th
Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL): season kicks off on February 26th 
Ultimate Indoor Football League (UIFL): season kicks off on February 18th

Kicking Camps
Aguiar/Husted Pro Qualification Camp: February 12th-13th, Las Vegas
Aguiar/Husted Pro Camp: March 26th-30th, Las Vegas

American Football - global
Some European league's games have already begun for 2011
Team USA vs. The World: February 2nd

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Year's Resolutions of Former Kickers That Are Now Journalists and That Are the Namesake for an Annual Kicking Award

We previously looked at some New Year's resolutions from current kickers and from kicking coaches. That leaves us with one more category: resolutions from former kickers that are now journalists and that are the namesake for an annual kicking award. Following are their answers.

"In 2011, I resolve to continue spreading the word about the outstanding performances on and off the football field by college kickers throughout the country, especially those who should receive greater recognition from FCS, Division II, Division III, NAIA and community colleges."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Year's Coaching Resolutions for 2011

When we asked kickers about their New Year's resolutions for 2011, there was an underlying theme to their answers. 
That was even more true for kicking coaches.

John Matich,
The Kicking System
"I would like to create more inspiring kicking content, drills, blogs, videos, etc. Connect with as many kicker and punters as possible. And commit to all the loyal TKS followers, students and give them the kicking information and coaching they deserve."

Mike McCabe, One On One Kicking
"To create more monsters in the industry of kicking."

Nathan Chapman, ProKick Australia
"My resolution is to have our punters PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE directional punting, it seems to be hard for a lot of guys in the NFL so we need them better prepared before they get there."

"I'd like to help more high school kickers and punters get college scholarships and football playing opportunities."

"To coach the Best Technique, but then the Mind to "Reflex" correct athletic execution."

Craig Hentrich, LEGacy Kicking
"Use my knowledge and experience to make a positive difference in young kickers/punters lives!"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coaching Kickers and Punters, circa 1893

Although there were no kicking specialists or special teams coaches 118 years ago, kicking and punting were still part of the game. The following excerpt from American Football, by Walter Camp (a.k.a. the "Father of American Football"), 1893, looks at kicking instruction back in the early days:
While it is neither advisable nor necessary that a kicker be prevented from attempting to kick hard until he has mastered every detail of the swing and brought it to the same point of perfection that a finished oarsman does his stroke, it certainly is best, in his practice, to subordinate power to method until he acquire good form. The coach should take his man in hand by watching him make a half dozen kicks in his own way. Then he should select the worst of his faults, and show him why it is a fault, and how to correct it. He should keep him upon this one point for a few days, until he is convinced that there will be no backsliding, and then begin upon the next. In this way a few weeks will serve to make a second-class man a good one, and open the way for his becoming something out of the ordinary run in another season.

In judging the faults of a kicker, the coach should note just where he gets his power on, what is the position of his leg and foot upon the swing, and what part of the foot strikes the ball. These are the principal points, and deserve the first attention. Regarding the first of these, his power should be put on just as his foot has passed the lowest part of the arc in which it swings, and it should meet the ball in the upward sweep very soon after passing this point. The position of his leg and foot is to be next noted, and the " snap the whip " phrase is as good a one to convey the idea as any that can be adopted. As the leg begins to swing the knee is bent and the body pitched a little forward, so that the weight of the kick seems to start from the hip and travel down the leg as it straightens, reaching the foot just as it meets the ball, as above mentioned. As for the third point, the ball, when punted, should be struck by the instep and not by the toe. In a drop-kick and a place-kick the ball is met by the toe, and the sweep is made with "a longer leg," as the expression has it; that is, the foot swings nearer—in fact, almost along the ground.

All these three points can be most clearly illustrated by noting the effect of departures from them. If the power is not put on as above described, the man will simply send the ball along the ground, or will hook it up, merely tossing it with his foot instead of driving it. These two are the extremes, of course; but they illustrate where the power is lost or wasted. If the leg be not swung in proper position, the ball will be simply spatted with the foot, the only force coming from the knee. Finally, if the ball be not met with the proper part of the foot it may snap downwards off the toe, or be merely bunted by the ankle.

There is still another thing to be watched, which, while not the kick proper, really belongs to it as much as the swing of the leg. It is the way in which the ball is dropped to the foot from the hand or hands. The usual tendency of beginners, and many half-backs who could hardly be classed in that category, is to toss the ball from the hand; that is, to give it a motion up from the hand, which,however slight, causes much valuable time to be lost. The ball should always be dropped to the foot, the distance between the hand and foot being made as short as possible. The hand should be merely withdrawn just at the proper moment, and with practice it is not difficult to make the entire transfer from hand to foot so rapid as to almost eliminate any danger of having the ball stopped or struck during that part of the play. In drop-kicking the fall is necessarily greater, but it should never be a toss even then. There has been no little argument as to whether the ball should be held in one or both hands by one about to kick, and such are the examples of good kickers arrayed on both sides that we cannot fairly say that either way is the only right way. If a player has become so accustomed to the two-hand method as to make him uncomfortable and inaccurate if forced to the one-hand way, it is hardly advisable to make the change. But any player who is taken early enough can be taught to drop the ball with one hand, to the great advantage of both his quickness and his ability to kick from tight quarters or around an opponent.

The entire series of motions, therefore, which go to make up a well-performed kick should be in the coach's mind just as the separate parts of an oarsman's stroke are in the boatingman's mind when coaching a crew. The ball dropped, not tossed; the leg well swung, the power coming from both leg and hip with all the advantage that the poise of the body may add; the foot meeting the ball with the forward part of the instep on a punt, with the toe on a drop, and in either case just after passing the lowest point of the arc of swing, rather later on a punt than a drop, because the ground helps the latter to rise, while the rise of the former must come entirely from the foot.

The next step in the education of the kicker is the side swing. The ball cannot be kicked as far when met directly in front of the kicker—his leg swinging straight, as it would in taking a step in running —as it can be kicked by taking a side sweep with the leg and body, the hips acting as a sort of pivot. One of the most common false ideas regarding this side kick is, that it is not performed with the same part of the foot as the straight punt, but that the ball is struck by the side of the foot. Of course, this is all wrong. The foot meets the ball as fairly and directly as it does in the ordinary straight kick, and the ball impinges upon the top of the instep and toe just as before, the word " side " referring to the swing of the leg and position of the body only.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy Kickers

WES BYRUM

NICK FOLK

Bowling for Kickers 2010, The Final Kicks


Tostitos BCS National Championship Game
Senior kicker Wes Byrum hit a 19 yard field goal as time expired to give Auburn a 22-19 win over Oregon for the championship. During the week prior to the game, Byrum discussed the prospect of a game winning kick:
"I've actually been asked that, like, 1,000 times. When I went home for Christmas, all of my friends asked me, 'What if you get to do that?' it's been pretty cool to think about it – but hopefully it won't be needed, that we'll take care of business. But if the time calls for it, I guess I'll deal with it then....
If it comes down to a kick, we're ready. We'll do our thing to hold up our end of the deal."
After the game he commented:
"It’s a great experience and a blessing to be a part of it. It’s a team thing. Everybody has been fighting hard all season. When the ball went through, I held up my arms, thanked God, and went to celebrate with my teammates."
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Senior kicker Josh Jasper concluded LSU's scoring with FGs of 50 and 26 yards in their 41-24 win over Texas A&M. Beforehand he discussed the venue:
"With the fact that we’re playing in Cowboy Stadium makes it a better game. A lot of aspects go into making what this game is all about and we’re looking forward to it.... 
This stadium is going to be such a great place to play and we’re trying not to get overwhelmed by the fact that we’re playing in such a great stadium. At the same time, we realize that we’re playing a quality team in a great place. It’s going to be a lot of fun."
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Freshman kicker Zach Hocker made FGs of 40, 46 & 47 yards for Arkansas in their 26-31 loss to Ohio State. Before the game he noted:
“It’s an honor. Especially the first year. Last year they played in the Liberty Bowl, which is a pretty good bowl. But to come in as a freshman and to play for a Sugar Bowl and be here in New Orleans, it’s just awesome.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

One Game, Two Game Winning Kicks

Adam Vinatieri did it again - another clutch playoff field goal. With 53 seconds remaining and the Colts trailing the Jets 13-14, he nailed a 50 yard field goal. Unlike his kick in the snow and his Super Bowl winners however, this one will not be long remembered by history. For in the subsequent 52 seconds the Jets negated his efforts by managing to pull out their own game winner by Nick Folk. Vinatieri noted afterward:
"Crap. It's one of those things where you go from a super, super high to a super, super low. You just sit there and swallow that pill for a long time."
History will remember Nick Folk's kick on the final play of the game.
"There's been some game-winners, but I don't think anything to this magnitude with this much on the line. Our season's done if it doesn't go in."
He'll be remembered along with Matt Bahr, the only other kicker to face a win-or-lose kick on the final play of an NFL playoff game. Other big playoff kicks still had time left on the clock (see Adam Vinatieri above) or had a tie score as one of the possible outcomes of the kick.

Folk's game winner ended up being a 32 yarder, comfortably less than his self-determined range.
"I told them 35 [yard line] was a good number for me. I can hit a 53 pretty confidently. I think that's what they were thinking and then they called a timeout and Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] called the play to Braylon [Edwards] and Braylon went up and made a great play."
The kick process itself as described by Folk was all text book... Treating the kick just like any other kick:
"I really wasn't thinking much. I was just trying to go out there and make it look like an extra point."
Clearing the mind and relying on muscle memory:
"I couldn’t tell you what was going through my mind at that point. I’m happy it went in."
Hitting the sweet spot and knowing the result at the moment of contact:
"I've had some good ones, but nothing like this. I knew it was good when I hit it."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Year's Kicking Resolutions for 2011

Four kickers recently discussed their goals for 2011. They play in different leagues, their circumstances are different, and their goals are distinct, but in each case they touch on the recurring fundamentals and themes of a career in kicking.

Graham Gano,
Washington Redskins

NFL veteran of 23 years, John Carney refers to kicking as "a learning process that never stops". In a recent article, Gano discussed his ongoing education.
“I learned a lot. It was definitely a good learning experience. I’ve never had a season like this, so it’s definitely good to learn and then get it behind me. It ended on a touchback, so that was nice. But I definitely would’ve liked to have finish field goal-wise.”
Coming off a challenging second year in which he led the NFL in missed field goals with eleven, Gano plans to refine his technique for 2011.
“I never had a problem mentally. I’m very mentally strong.  I think it’s just technique. I can put the ball through from 60-plus. I just need to work on my mechanics. This season I’ve had definitely fired me up, so I’m looking forward to this offseason and getting better....
I’m a three-step kicker, so my first jab step - the first step in the process - has been a little off this season, so I’ll probably switch to a two-step and should be a lot more consistent. [Taking three steps] is just something I’ve done my whole career, gets my momentum going. But now I think I have the leg strength that I don’t need that first step....
Coach and my teammates have been great. Even Sunday on the sideline they were telling me, ‘Hey, you’re going to win this for us'. It helps to have that confidence, but I’ve got to start doing better on the field.”
Tony Smidl, Wisconsin Wolfpack

When we asked Tony what his New Year's kicking resolution was, his reply was quick and simple:
"Not miss ever including practice!"
We didn't ask him to elaborate why. Perhaps he wants to make certain he stays in shape. Perhaps he's focused on developing and maintaining the muscle memory needed for kicking success. Or perhaps he just really enjoys practices. Regardless, deliberate practice (and lots of it) is one of the essential ingredients to becoming an expert in kicking (or in just about any endeavor).

Rob Maver, Calgary Stampeders

Coming off his first year in the CFL, Rob has specific goals for year number two.
"My goal for this year is to improve on my numbers from last year. I'd like to kick mid to high 80's and be over 75% from beyond 40 yards. On top of this, I'm going to improve my overall fitness which will help my body going through an 18 game season with two preseason games plus playoffs!"
The latter part of his resolution is not uncommon for first year players at any level - be it a freshman in college or a rookie in a pro league. Endurance increasingly becomes a factor as seasons grow longer and workloads increase at each subsequent level.

Carlos Ojeda, Utah Blaze

Not only has Carlos developed muscle memory for kicking, he's also developed strong New Year's resolution memory:
"The same resolution I had last year, and the year before, and the year before that, all the way back to my first season in high school... to split the uprights on every kick. Be it practice, warmups, preseason game, home game, away, playoffs, championship game, blowouts, close games, tryouts, goofing off, whatever... even in my head -- Every time I line up to attempt a field goal or extra point in 2011, I expect it to go in."
Technique, practice, and fitness are certainly important. But just as important (and some would argue even more important) is the mental aspect of kicking. The ability to block out distractions. Moving passed prior failures. Continually maintaining confidence.

This article sponsored by the National Camp Series.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Overtime Unkicked

When Walter Camp devised the first scoring system for American football in 1883, field goals were valued at five points, touchdowns at two points, and conversions after touchdowns at four points. These gradually changed in the several decades thereafter. Kicking results were further diminished by other rules changes over the years - narrowing of the goalposts, shifting the goalposts back, and the infamous K-ball.

Although perhaps not as drastic as the prior changes, the most recent rule change to devalue kicking goes into effect this weekend in the NFL. If a playoff game goes into overtime, a field goal scored on the opening possession of the extra period is no longer a certain game winner. The game would continue with the other team getting an opportunity to score.

Several current NFL players recently commented on the new rule.

Nick Folk, New York Jets
"I think it’s going to change the offense and how you call plays when you get down there. You can’t just be conservative and kick a field goal. If you score a touchdown, you win. I think that’s going to be the new thought and you won’t see as many long kicks in overtime.... It’s a whole different dynamic."

Robbie Gould, Chicago Bears
"It takes away from the walk-off home run, so to speak, in the NFL. You have to make the adjustment and every kick counts.... You might see a couple of extra onside kicks. You have to approach it the same way (during the opening drive of overtime). You have to take the points and hopefully your defense stops them."

Jay Feely, Arizona Cardinals
" I don't believe in de-emphasizing the kicking game. Why change the inherent rules and strategy of the game for the playoffs?"

Olindo Mare, Seattle Seahawks
"Every kick that I kick, first quarter or last quarter, they're all three points, so it's not like you pick and choose which kick is more important. To me, they're all game winners.... It really doesn't matter, to be honest with you. All kicks are going to count for three points, so it's not going to affect anything I do whatsoever."

Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
"I'm not a fan of it to be honest with you. It just takes us [kickers] out of the mix a little bit more....
Well, you know, special teams is a third of the game. A lot of times [the league doesn't] look at it that way, but it really is. And that is the way I feel. I feel kickers and punters and returners and all the specialists are just as important as any other position out there."

Monday, January 3, 2011

NFL Week 17: Clutch & Touch(back)

Among active kickers, Adam Vinatieri was the name most often mentioned as being Pro Football Hall of Fame worthy when we discussed the topic last August. Not necessarily because of his productivity or longevity, although he has now scored 1659 points during his 15 years in the NFL. Not necessarily because of his accuracy, although his career field goal percentage of 82.7% is presently 12th all-time. He's continually mentioned because he's been clutch when it matters most. 

Although his 43 yard game winner as time expired in the Colts 23-20 win over the Titans yesterday wasn't quite as big as his playoff and Super Bowl kicks with the Patriots, it was clutch nonetheless.
"That distance is well within pretty much every kicker's range. There is no such thing as an easy game-winner at any distance. But it worked out pretty good."
Field goal productivity and accuracy typically are the primary factor for a kicker to land in the Pro Bowl. Although Billy Cundiff's 26 of 29 on field goals this year is certainly productive and accurate, it was not necessarily the main reason he was named the AFC kicker for this year's Pro Bowl. The bigger story all year was his kickoffs. Yesterday he raised season total of touchbacks to 40, tying the league record set by Mitch Berger in 1994.
"It's really strange to put the ball on the tee and have everybody go, 'OK, we want this touchback'. I think they wanted it more than I did....
Obviously, I wish I would have broken it, right? I kind of felt like I left two kicks out there," he said. "I just didn't get through them as much as I would have liked. Still, if you would have taken me [aside] at the last game of the season last year and talked [to] me about if I would be disappointed that I only got two touchbacks and I'm playing at the end of the season this year, I think that's a good progression for me as kicker. It's exciting."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bowling for Kickers 2010, part 2


Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Junior kicker Casey Barth hit a 39 yard FG as time eventually officially expired in the fourth quarter to tie the game. He then made a 23 yard FG in double overtime to give North Carolina a 30-27 win over Tennessee.
"It was tough; I thought we were done. The coaches kept telling me, 'Keep kicking. You're going to get your shot'....
It was wild. All I could do was just go out there and swing my leg and not worry about anything. I've got a lot of faith in my offensive line and my holder, and with that I knew I could make it."
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Senior kicker David Ruffer hit FGs of 40, 50 & 19 yards in Notre Dame's 33-17 win over Miami (FL). The three makes extended his streak to 23 in-a-row, however he missed one in the third quarter.
"The streak was neat while I had it, but I was going to miss eventually. One of the guys mentioned, isn't it better that it didn't really matter? It's fine. We won a bowl game, which is two in a row for us. This is a good springboard for next year, too....
It was the short field goal, my cleat got locked in the turf a little bit and it cramped up my left calf. They tried to stretch it out. I felt fine on the sideline, but I'm not going to make excuses. The ball went right and it didn't go in. It doesn't matter whether there's an excuse there or not."
Chick-fil-A Bowl
Sophomore kicker Dustin Hopkins made four FGs (29, 48, 35 & 45 yards) in Florida State's 26-17 win over South Carolina. Opposing head coach Steve Spurrier noted:
"They have a heck of a kicker. They must have gained 250 yards in the kicking game."
Outback Bowl
Senior punter Chas Henry hit FGs of 30, 47 & 20 yards in Florida's 37-24 win over Penn State.
"I was struggling a little bit on punts, so I knew if I wasn't doing a great job on punts I had to at least give back some other way. That's what we practice every day for and we knocked them down today."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The 2010 Kickology Interviews

Although 2011 is less than a day old, we're already working on the first of this year's feature interviews with those who know a thing or two about kickology, not to mention a thing or two about various other exciting matters. For those who can't wait, and for those who didn't get a chance to spend as much quality time reading the kickology blog last year as they would have liked, we present the requisite highlights from some of the 2010 feature interviews. Thanks to all the interviewees for sharing their experiences and knowledge.

With Minnesota Viking kicker Ryan Longwell, we tapped his years of experience and focused on the timeless basics.
"I usually hit about 40-50 kicks a week during the season with my snapper and holder...we hit 20 or so during the days we kick in minicamps. Other than that, I only kick a few times by myself during the offseason... I think you can get really bad habits by just using the tripod to kick."
During his graduate work, Travis Dorsch studied goal post widths and heights... not actual dimensions, but perceived dimensions in the mind of the kicker. Consequently, a large portion of our conversation "focused" on the mental side of kicking.
"I think those that clear the mind comes from the ultimate confidence of being able to perform your task. A lot of novices, such as when you get up there on the golf tee right on the first tee, you’re thinking about all the things that can go wrong – don’t hook it, don’t slice it, don’t dribble it off the bottom of your club to the women’s tee. Basically in your mind you’re putting all these negative visualizations. On the other side of that spectrum, a lot of people believe that when you get out there to perform your task - whether it’s a field goal, a punt, or whatever - you shut your eyes, take a deep breath, visualize the good that can happen; visual everything happening perfectly and then perform the task. Then there’s that third school of thought like you just mentioned – get out there and let everything flush out. I think that ability comes from the ability to know that you’ve done this hundreds of thousands of times in practice and you don’t need to think. As an athlete, sometimes you can over think things. You just need to go out there and perform the rote muscle memories that you’ve worked so hard on in practice. I think you probably get that answer a lot from kickers in the NFL because like I said, with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of repetitions, they know all they have to do is react. As a punter you catch the ball, you kick it. You don’t think. As a kicker you see the snap, you see the hold, you kick it. So it doesn’t surprise me that you get that answer about just not thinking - sort of being a blank slate."
We spoke to Billy Cundiff early in the year - before he had fended off the competition from Shayne Graham for the Baltimore Ravens job in 2010, before he went on to make a large percentage of his field goal attempts, before he kicked a ton of touchbacks, and before he was named to the Pro Bowl. He discussed lessons learned from his coaching work that he applied to his own kicking.
"The big thing is you’ve got to practice what you preach! There’s a lot of times where I felt like I maybe didn’t demand of my students as much as I should have – whether it’s keeping your head down, or where you focus your eyes, or how to approach certain kicks. I was always ‘you need to do this and you need to that’, and then I would get into a game and think ‘okay, if I was coaching what would I say? Well, this is what I’d do, why don’t I just do that.’ Simple things such as on short field goals don’t try to aim it, you’ve just got to pick your spot and kick through the ball. Same thing with long field goals, you can’t try to guide the ball and try to just put it through, you have to let it go and trust that you’ll have enough distance and that it will stay true to your line if you stay disciplined with your technique. Little things like that, like on kickoffs not trying to be really aggressive, but straddling the line between being aggressive and too aggressive. As the game would go on I would always find things where I’d think, ‘I know what to do here, I’ve taught kids this hundreds of times. I need to just go out and do it’."
If there was one interview last year where a common theme emerged in the answers, it was with former NFL kicker and current kicking instructor Mike Hollis. The theme was "form". It was applicable regardless of the time or place. It was even applicable regardless of the weather.
"The form and the step we coach are not an aggressive approach. It’s smooth, it’s balanced, it’s progressive, it’s just running by the ball. If you’re talking about footing, talking about rain, talking about wind… if you do the form and kick a solid ball, and you’re balanced and on top of your plant foot (instead of to the side or behind), you’re going to have a really good chance of that ball going where it needs to go. Guys start second guessing themselves and aiming outside uprights or putting on longer cleats. I got some of my best kicks out of the dirt infields of baseball/football stadiums when we were playing in preseason games or even early season games. It was because I was doing form. There’s no other reason. In weather conditions, if you wanted to affect your kick, then you’re thinking too hard about it. If you just do your form and trust it, the ball’s gonna go."
When it comes to years of kicking experience at the pro level, John Carney is near the top of the list. It might be reasonable to assume that he's learned it all...
"[Football]’s a sport much like golf where you never stop learning. You never really stop adjusting and evolving your swing and your training to squeeze out more potential and to squeeze out more performance. So everything from training how to train during the season and the offseason, how to work out in the weight room and how not to work out in the weight room, how to recover faster by using the cold tanks in the training room, more rest, always improving the diet… all those things. Then the mental game as well - how to approach your preparation during the week, how to approach the game, and how to handle success and defeat. Again it’s a learning process that never stops."
Steve Hauschka had stints with two different NFL teams this past summer, then played in the UFL, and is now back in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. Like most kickers today, his career started with soccer before transitioning to football.
"I remember the difficulty of kicking this oblong object compared to a soccer ball. When you kick a soccer ball you can hit the sweet spot every time. But when you’re kicking a football it’s difficult to find that spot at first. And your foot position needs to be in a different place. I’d say the hardest thing for me to get used to at first was just how to hit the ball with my foot. The foot-to-ball contact was really tough to adjust to at the beginning.... You can swing across the ball in soccer and get away with it - you almost want spin on the ball. But then when it comes to kicking a football, you want to swing up and through the ball. Much like a goal kick, you want to get as much elevation on the ball as you can. It’s a little bit of a different swing plane. But with the right instruction, and just being aware of that was something that helped me get better at kicking a football."
In October, Craig Pinto helped raise funds for and awareness of celiac disease by doing what he knows best... kicking. During a 12 hour kicking marathon, he kicked a world record 717 field goals.
"For any athlete, I think the main challenge when diagnosed with Celiac Disease is changing your diet to find the right nutrients to put into your body. You need to figure out alternatives to replace what you will lose eating a “normal diet” having an allergy to Gluten. For me as an athlete, I had to bring my own meals to pre-game meals, and traveling for road games was just as difficult, because most athletes, or at least the ones I played with, did not have Celiac Disease, so eating pre-game meals was never an issue for them - they never had to think twice. I had to make sure the meals that were prepared for us on the road were not cross contaminated if I had to order from wherever we were dining. No matter what though, I always had my own form of gluten-free pasta ready to go, just in case."
The mental side of kicking surfaced often last year - and not just with placekickers. It surfaced when former NFL punter and current punting instructor Louie Aguiar discussed the transition to the pro level.
"If you don’t have the mental side of it, it doesn’t matter how great of a punter you are. If you don’t have the mental side of it, you’re done! I was in training camp with many young kids in my career – college kids with cannons for legs – but when they got behind the line of scrimmage, they couldn’t handle the pressure. We’d be out there kicking side by side in practice and I’m thinking ‘these guys are hammering the ball’, but as soon as they got behind the line of scrimmage it was a different story. Even for me when I came out of college, I wasn’t ready. I went to the Buffalo Bills training camp in 1991. Coming from college it was a different game. All the guys are faster. They come at you faster. In college they just let you kick the ball away. In most cases in the pros they want you to kick outside the numbers. I wasn’t ready coming out of college either. Kids coming out of college, they’re not prepared for the NFL.”
Kicking in large domed stadium has the presumed advantage of eliminating weather concerns. But indoor venues come in many shapes and sizes. AFL kicker Taylor Rowan discussed the challenges of kicking in an arena.
"In some of the arenas you have to deal with a really low scoreboard in the middle, so sometimes you have to go off to the right or left side to kick around it. In some of them the rafters are extremely low. Some of them have flags hanging in there. In Orlando, when you go play the Predators, their nets are a little bit closer together. The nets normally extend to the very edge of the field. But in Orlando they have rounded endzones, so the nets are actually a little bit less than three-quarters of the field. So you have to kick around the scoreboard, and then in kicking around the scoreboard you also have to hit the net which is a lot skinnier. The key is obviously hitting the iron, so the ball bounces out as a live ball. There are a lot of obstacles you have to deal with.”
Last but not least, we ended with the beginning. Every kicking or punting play starts with the long snapper. As Kyle Stelter noted, it's not as easy as it looks.
"It’s tough. You’ve got to be very skilled to be able to throw a ball as hard as you can between your legs and the try to get your head up so you don’t get killed. There’s a lot of practice that goes into it, a lot of training, and a lot of people don’t think it’s a hard thing to do. They see people do it and say, ‘aww, I could do that’. But until they get under, between their legs, and try to do it themselves… then they could finally appreciate what we do as a long snapper.”