the study of the kicking components within sports

Sunday, June 2, 2013

NFC North Kickers Each Have Something to Prove

Every summer there are a handful of story lines involving NFL kickers. This year, the NFC North division alone has enough stories to keep sportswriters very busy the next few months.
Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed the last three games of 2012 due to a ruptured tendon in his left leg, and subsequently underwent surgery. Following offseason rehab, he was recently cleared to resume practicing and will need to prove there are no adverse effects.
"I'll be just as good. I have busted my butt to get healthy and I can't wait to get out there and show everyone."
Gould's absence from minicamps gave kicker Austin Signor an opportunity to show Chicago (and the other 31 teams in the league) that he deserves a spot in the NFL.

Packers kicker Mason Crosby enters 2013 following a disappointing 2012 season in which he hit only 21 of 33 (63.6%) field goals. He did fare better towards the end of the year and will need to prove he can continue to do so.

“I kept working hard, I kept my head down, kept striving to be the best I could be out there, and at the end of the season I came out of the funk, if you want to call it (that). I felt good with how I just kept working. This organization sticking behind me kept building that confidence. For me, I never lost it. I never lost it in my head. I kept going out every day, trying to do the things I know best, work on those details, and I finished the season how I wanted to. I made some kicks down the stretch I needed to make, and I draw off of that. I was able to figure it out through that rough time and come out of it....

Especially this offseason, practice, weight room, everything I’m doing, I’m focused in on being sharp, being in that moment and taking advantage of that opportunity. I think it’s going to carry me a long way....

For me, it’s good to see that guy next to you. It definitely puts a little added competitive juice in there. I feel like it’s been good for me. I’ve been hitting the ball well and competing, and from top to bottom on this team, that’s how we excel and how we get better."
The competition to which Crosby refers comes from Giorgio Tavecchio, a free agent signed back in March. It is the first time since Crosby's rookie season that another kicker has been in camp. For Tavecchio - who was born in Milan Italy, went to the University of California, and is still acclimating to a new culture -  it's optimally a shot at the job or at least keeping himself under consideration for future NFL job openings.
“This is a part of the country I haven’t been exposed to too much to meet new people and see a slice of America I haven’t really been able to taste much. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming so far, met some nice people and went to a couple good restaurants....

 [Crosby and I] have been around each other for the last few weeks. He’s been very friendly, very cordial. It’s been fun to be around and see a real pro.”
New Lions kicker David Akers, not only takes over the job that was held seemly forever by Jason Hanson, but also comes off a difficult 2012 season in San Francisco. He struggled in the latter stages of last year, came close to losing his job in the playoffs, and then finally was released by the 49ers in the off-season.
"Going into training camp [last year] I was feeling pretty good. Made 50-55 [yarders] the first game I played in, then started working on my kickoffs. The first game of the year I hit a 63-yarder (which tied NFL record). I thought man this is going to be an awesome year. A couple weeks later I think we played you all [meaning Lions] the next week a good game there. I fell in practice it went down from then. It was real rainy conditions, I slipped and fell. I didn’t think much of it, that day. The next day I had pain around the area where I had surgery. I thought I had torn it again, I had this inflammation that bothered me all year ...

I was trying to fight through it. It’s one thing you can have an injury and fight through it makes you feel a sense of accomplishment and follow through. I was the opposite. We were doing so great as a team, I was so proud of being a Niner and being with the guys. I had such a horrible personal season it was discouraging. For me I’m a competitor I want to compete at all costs, nobody wants to go out like that....

The season is coming quickly, but you still have time. I’m working out full and kind of giving it that aspect of feeling strong and ready....
I’ve had a great career of my own so I don’t feel like I need to like hang on somebody else’s shirt tails, coat tails, whatever. The way I look at it, I’m going to try to do the best I can."
The Lions other kicker, HÃ¥vard Rugland, may have the most to prove. The Norwegian native is looking to make a belated transition from soccer. His resume does not include any high school or college football, and in fact he's never played American football. He'll be looking to prove that in the fast-changing, modern world it's within the realm of possibility to translate a YouTube trick-shot video into an NFL career.
"I’m really serious about it. I’m doing my best to get better every day. I think there’s a lot of people wanting a spot on an NFL team, so you have to perform good. They wouldn’t sign me if they didn’t see something, like talent or potential....

From soccer, your head pretty often follows the football. I’m trying to keep my head down, so [wearing a helmet] almost helps me out a little bit....

I’ve got a lot of support from back home. They don’t know very much about American football, but it’s actually growing, the interest, so it’s really positive."
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh is not coming off an injury, did not struggle last year, does not have any competition in camp, and already knows how to play football. In fact, he's coming off a stellar rookie season in which he set various records and ended up in the Pro Bowl. It would appear he is the lone NFC North kicker with nothing to prove this summer. But maybe his task is actually the hardest of the lot, even more than Rugland's. With no external forces pressing him, Walsh has to avoid falling from the top of his game -  a fate which befalls many atop the proverbial ladder.
“You erase it. You erase all that you’ve done last year. It doesn’t matter at this point.”

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