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Sunday, August 2: Hunter Smith, Greatest (Holder) Of All Time?

Posted by Matt Terl on August 2, 2009 – 7:22 am

The kicking competition got off to its official start yesterday, as Shaun Suisham and Dave Rayner attempted field goals for the first time this training camp. Neither of them missed. This may have been because there was no rush, no pressure, and no one else at all on the field.

Or it may be a harbinger of what the kicking game is going to look like this season, no matter which guy wins.

Here’s special teams coach Danny Smith after practice yesterday, explaining what might be the biggest difference in the kicking game this year: new holder Hunter “The Punter” Smith.

“We talk in terms of [Colts kickers] Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt, guys in the top two in the history of the league in terms of field goal percentage. Who was the holder? There’s something to be said for that. He may be the best holder in the history of the game.” The assembled media laughed; Smith is a gifted raconteur, and people naturally assumed that this was some kind of a joke. Smith pressed on, insistent. “I mean, that might be true. You could have that argument!”

It was something that had been brought to my attention a couple of days ago, and the numbers can certainly be read to support the assertion. Vinatieri has been largely consistent through holder changes, but when Vanderjagt changed teams (and therefore holders), his accuracy nosedived. And Suisham’s numbers definitely dipped last year when Ryan Plackemeier took over the holding duties.

So I started asking around about Hunter Smith.

“He’s the most accurate holder in North America,” Suisham said. “Well, I can’t say North America. There could be a crafty Canadian somewhere out there. But you know.”

Rayner hedged a little more, but essentially stayed on the same page. “I don’t know about ‘accurate holder,’ but he’s a good holder. It’s consistent. It’s very smooth, he’s got good hands, and it’s a repetitive thing every time.”

I asked Rayner if the holder could really affect things that much, and he shrugged as if the answer was obvious. “Without him being that good of a holder, Mike [Vanderjagt] doesn’t set that record, obviously. I don’t know how you quantify that, but I guess he was a big part of that success with the Colts for so many years.”

So I followed up with Smith himself, and I started by asking about the basic assertion: is he the most accurate holder in the NFL?

“There’s no question,” he said. “Mike Vanderjagt is the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Adam Vinatieri is one of the most accurate and the most clutch, so I would argue that I’m one of the most clutch and accurate holders in NFL history.” He stopped for a second, grinned. “And our kicker here — whoever that turns out to be –is going to keep that going.”

So what makes a hold “clutch” or “accurate”? Smith seemed happy to be asked. “A good hold makes as smooth of a transition for the kicker as possible. I catch the ball, get it down quickly with the laces out and it’s a matter of, wherever the snap is, I give him the same product every time and that only comes from just work.”

In the end, it comes down to the kicker, of course. “It’s the kicker’s job is to kick the ball well, I see it as, if I give him the same thing every time, it’s all on him. And that’s pretty much what I do, I focus on never doing something different, always doing the same thing.”

Long snapper Ethan Albright told me something very similar last season about his legendary consistency — the holders actually work with the Jugs machine to practice with bad and unusual snaps precisely because Albright is so consistent –which means that two of the three major moving parts in the field goal team are among the most reliable at their position. Whatever else happens with the kicking competition from here on out, it’s going to be all about what the kickers do, not those other two.


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