Philadelphia Eagles News

Patience Pays In Kicking Game

This was the plan all along as the Eagles plotted their strategy for 2011. They carefully scouted every kicker on the streets in the NFL and every youngster coming through the draft. And they determined that if they could secure Henery -- whom they drafted in the fourth round in April -- and Henry -- signed as a rookie free agent -- they would feel good about their kicking situation late in the summer.

And they do. Henery booted two field goals and had three touchbacks on four kickoffs in the preseason opener against Baltimore. Henry had a 28-yard mis-hit late in the game to mar an otherwise good performance, and now they look ahead to their second challenge, Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

"I'm pleased," said April, the team's second-year special teams coordinator. "Every rookie that has come in here has had an adjustment period. They are competing against themselves and the expectations people have for them. The expectations are as big a challenge as anything.

"Both of them are making good progress. Some days they take steps forward, some days they flat line and some days they dip a little bit. They're going to be there. I think we got two really good guys. They learn every day and they improve."

The Eagles have devoted their kicking game exclusively to both Henery, college football's all-time most accurate kicker, and Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award last year as the nation's best punter, to try to accelerate their progress. There is no denying that both have tremendous talent. This isn't a case where the Eagles are trying to making something out of a player who is not quite at the highest level in this league.

What it is is an opportunity for the Eagles to bring along a pair of rookies and give them day after day after day of repetition to smooth out their mechanical flaws.

It is all very scientific, in fact. When Henery misses a field goal, April explained, it is usually because his plant leg -- his left leg -- is three degrees off from where it should be. For Henry, a poor punt is generally the result of the angle of his drop. When he hooks his arm and his drops the ball too far inside, Henry tends to attack the ball at a less-than-ideal angle, and the result is a kick that wobbles off his foot.

When both players hit it true, the results are satisfying. Henery kicked a 58-yard field goal last week in practice and has that kind of range every day if need be. Henry booms his punts when he has a flawless drop and good contact on the football.

"We got the two best guys (from the rookie class) and we're going to have very little time, so let's monopolize them with this time," said April of the team's decision not to add any other kickers. "We're on that path. If we get off it, we get right back down with the same instruction and the same routine. I'm fine with where we're at."

Henry has been holding for Henery, lending to the idea of establishing some long-term stability here. Of course, the Eagles had the ultimate stability with Pro Bowl kicker David Akers, who left the team in free agency to sign in San Francisco.

The Eagles anticipated that, as evidenced by their decision to use a fourth-round draft pick on Henery, who made 68 of 76 field goal attempts at Nebraska. As for the punting game, the team made no real effort to sign incumbent Sav Rocca, who had a strong season last year for the Eagles. Instead, the Eagles made it a priority to sign Henry from Florida, where he averaged 45.1 yards as a senior and 43 yards in his career.

"I do think there is a process with these guys," said April. "They aren't right there right now. It has to be accelerated with a kicker, because he has to be the guy right now. You do give them some leeway, because you know their potential, you see how talented they are and you want to keep climbing those hills to get to the summit."

April is one of the game's most respected and accomplished special teams coordinators, and after having Akers on auto-pilot (kickers style) last season, he has two kids to mold, to perfect.

"I'm pleased with the progression. I want them to be accelerated, but I have to understand where they are. We're three weeks in. Nobody who comes into this league is a finished product after three weeks. Nobody. Not a first-round pick. Nobody.

"They have elite talent, they have mental toughness and they have been in pressure situations. They're stable guys, they have good size and they bring that power that you like. They're really young. They're just starting this thing and they're already really good."

Another day, then, and another lesson learned. The Eagles, laden with veterans throughout a roster deep with talent, are going with a pair of top-shelf talents who happen to be rookies in the kicking game. Is it a risk? Isn't everything in the NFL? Does anyone really know what is going to happen?

The Eagles want to take the best talent they can get -- and they think they have with Henery and Henry -- and develop it quickly, one kick at a time.

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