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All Eyes On Placekicker Picture

Posted Aug 26, 2014

The numbers tell the truth: Nearly half of every NFL game is decided by 7 points or fewer and 24 percent are decided by a 3-point difference. Every moment counts in a game ...

The numbers tell the truth: Nearly half of every NFL game is decided by 7 points or fewer and 24 percent have a 3-points-or-fewer difference. Every moment counts in a game.

And when a placekicker is called upon to put the football between the uprights, accuracy is demanded. That very skill has been one of Alex Henery's strengths in his career. He's made 74 of 86 field goal attempts -- and is 1 of 2 in the post-season -- and has that kind of unflappable heartbeat you look for in a kicker.

An uneven 2013 season raised some questions and two misses -- of 47 yards and 31 yards -- in the preseason games have increased the concern and now the Eagles are in a position where they have to make sure they are solid at the position.

To that end, the team traded with Indianapolis last week for Cody Parkey, who had two kickoffs in the preseason game against Pittsburgh, one that landed 5 yards deep in the end zone and one that landed 4 yards deep in the end zone. Both were returned. Parkey also kicked a PAT.

Who will kick for the Eagles when the regular season begins against Jacksonville on September 7? That answer is not yet confirmed, and with the preseason finale set for Thursday night against the Jets (7 PM., 6abc), the placekicker spot is very much in the spotlight.

"It's my job to make kicks and I'm not happy I've missed a couple in games," said Henery, who has kicked very well in the summer and has been good on kickoffs. "I'm working on it. I know my responsibilities and I've got to be better. I try not to think about it and go out there and do my job. I just worry about the next kick.

"I feel like I've had a good camp other than those two kicks. But that's my job. Other than those outliers, I've kicked well."

In his first season after the Eagles made him a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, Henery was about as good as it gets. He made 24-of-27 field goals for an 88.9-percent success rate which, at the time, was the best in NFL history (it now ranks third). Henery then made 27-of-31 field goals in 2012 (a percentage of 87.1) before dipping last year. Henery converted 23-of-28 attempts in 2013, a rate of 82.1, and he was 7-of-10 on kicks from 40-49 yards.

Moreover, the Eagles needed him to be better on kickoffs, something Henery worked on diligently in the offseason.

Everything was progressing in the right direction until the missed field goal in New England, followed by the miss against the Steelers.

The miss in New England happened, Henery said, because his foot hit the ground before hitting the ball and then he didn't "get through the ball" and the kick went wide right. The 31-yarder was a chip shot, an easy kick, but Henery didn't get his hip through the ball and again he pushed the kick.

The week of practice since that miss has been "good," says Henery. "I feel like I've kicked all camp."

"I wish I could put my finger on it," said head coach Chip Kelly after the 31-yard miss. "I don't know what he's battling. But, obviously, you have to make a field goal like that. You have to make it."

Henery knows the deal. He's stood tall and answered all the questions and he's gone out and had had very strong days on the practice field. Thursday looms large for Henery, for Parkey, and for the Eagles.

"This is a business and it's about performance," said Henery. "I know I can make those kicks. I've made them every day. It's just unfortunate that I didn't execute those two times. I'm going to work through it and keep kicking and get past it."

Parkey had an outstanding career at Auburn and is said to have a big leg (he led the nation in touchbacks last season). He could very well have some field goal opportunities against New York.

"I don't know what the plan is, but I would think they want to see me on the field after making a trade to bring me here," said Parkey. "It's gone pretty well in practice. We're getting our timing down. I feel like I'm kicking it the way I want."

Who's it going to be when the Jaguars visit on September 7? Henery, the experienced NFL kicker, or Parkey, the young leg? Or will one of the kickers who gets released around the league attract the team's attention? Or will the Eagles reach out to a handful of long-time NFL veterans who are available, among them Rob Bironas and former Eagles star David Akers?

There isn't an answer at the moment. Thursday's game looms large for Henery and for Parkey and, yes, for an Eagles team that needs a reliable, stable answer at placekicker this season.

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