Halfway: Kick­ers just don’t get coach­ing other play­ers get

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Rob Maaddi

No­body wants to see the out­come of an NFL game determined by a kicker.

The “real” foot­ball play­ers fight for 60 min­utes, only to have the small­est guy on the field de­cide the win­ner. But it hap­pens ev­ery week and of­ten doesn’t end well.

Mid­way through this sea­son, seven teams have failed to win games be­cause a kicker missed a field goal in the fi­nal 30 sec­onds or in over­time. Kick­ers also have missed 30 extra points.

The most glar­ing blun­ders oc­curred in Week 7 in over­time of the same game. Ari­zona’s Chan­dler Catan­zaro had a 24-yard field goal clang off the left up­right, and Seat­tle’s Steve Hauschka pulled a 28-yard at­tempt wide left. The teams tied 6-6.

A week later in Lon­don, Wash­ing­ton’s Dustin Hop­kins missed a 34-yarder in OT and the Red­skins and Ben­gals tied 27-27.

The Browns wouldn’t be win­less if Cody Parkey made a 46-yarder at the end of reg­u­la­tion in Week 3. He also missed two other field goals in that game and Cleve­land lost to Mi­ami in over­time.

Con­sid­er­ing the im­por­tance of field goals and the fact extra points are from a longer dis­tance, this stat makes no sense in to­day’s NFL: one team, the Bal­ti­more Ravens, em­ploys a kick­ing coach.

The league has be­come so spe­cial­ized that teams in­vest in sports sci­ence coaches, an­a­lyt­ics as­sis­tants, foot­ball in­for­ma­tion man­agers and other gu­rus for var­i­ous po­si­tions. The Car­di­nals have a “pass rush spe­cial­ist” and the Chiefs have a “spe­cial projects coach” on board.

Yet only one team pays a coach to work solely with kick­ing spe­cial­ists. Randy Brown, the mayor of a town in New Jersey, joined John Har­baugh’s staff in 2008 af­ter stints with the Ea­gles and Bears. Un­der Brown, Justin Tucker has de­vel­oped into the sec­ond-most ac­cu­rate kicker in NFL history. He’s 34 for 34 this sea­son (22 field goals, 12 extra points).

Tucker, punter Sam Koch and long snap­per Mor­gan Cox have been to the Pro Bowl un­der Brown’s guid­ance.

“Randy is one of the most im­por­tant peo­ple around the build­ing,” Tucker said. “What he does is un­matched around the league. The pro­duc­tion speaks for it­self.”

Brown spends two days at prac­tice with the Ravens and also goes to games. He coaches Tucker, Koch and Cox the same way other po­si­tion coaches work with their play­ers. That al­lows Ravens spe­cial teams coach Jerry Ros­burg to fo­cus on cov­er­age, block­ing schemes and re­turns.

“What we do is tech­ni­cal, it’s fi­nite,” Tucker said. “The suc­cess comes from hav­ing an at­ten­tion to de­tail that Randy and Jerry have been good about in­still­ing in all of us. It’s some­thing we build on ev­ery sin­gle day.”

Teams have no lim­its on the size of coach­ing staffs. Some po­si­tions have two or three dif­fer­ent coaches.

Yet kick­ers get no love. They’re left alone to fig­ure out their me­chan­ics, tim­ing and ev­ery­thing else to make that cru­cial kick.

Sure, ev­ery team has a spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor and sev­eral teams also have an as­sis­tant to help. But they don’t work closely with the kicker, punter and long snap­per.

“It’s mind-blow­ing that more teams don’t have kick­ing coaches,” said David Ak­ers, a six-time Pro Bowl kicker dur­ing 16 sea­sons in the NFL. “There has to be a value teams place on teach­ing spe­cial­ists. You can have a guy with the strong­est leg in the world, but the whole op­er­a­tion has to be per­fect. The snap, the lo­ca­tion, the hold have to be per­fect or leg strength doesn’t mat­ter.”

Ak­ers spent time dur­ing train­ing camp vis­it­ing the Ravens. Har­baugh was Philadel­phia’s spe­cial teams coach for sev­eral years when Ak­ers played for the Ea­gles, and Brown coached him in 2004-05.

“The Ravens are so pre­cise with ev­ery­thing,” Ak­ers said. “They have it down to an ex­act sci­ence with Randy and that’s why their guys are so good.”

The Ti­tans had an as­sis­tant who specif­i­cally worked with the kick­ing group, Steve Hoff­man, be­fore he was pro­moted to spe­cial teams coach in Oc­to­ber. Hoff­man be­gan his coach­ing ca­reer as the kick­ing coach for Dal­las in 1989 and held the job for 16 years while also per­form­ing other du­ties on spe­cial teams.

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