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Practice – A Kicking Competition! Or Not.

Posted by Matt Terl on August 31, 2009 – 5:49 pm

Despite the absence of Albert Haynesworth, Kareem Moore, Carlos Rogers, and Randy Thomas from this afternoon’s practice, the big news was the kicking competition. Each of the two competitors for the placekicker position attempted seven field goals of varying lengths and in various simulated pressure situations. Shaun Suisham made six and missed one; Dave Rayner made five and missed two.

This was, frankly, a pretty inconclusive result. Here’s head coach Jim Zorn on the subject after practice: “It was good,” he said of the competition. “They both made most of their field goals. I thought it was interesting to see the rhythm and the timing. There are some things that will show up, I think. They’re competing hard. Again, we hope they get some kicks in the game so that we can see more. It will be a last minute decision as we go along here because it’s not clear.”

Meanwhile, these fourteen kicks were such a big deal that the media was allowed to stay out on the sidelines a bit later than usual so they could watch, and the two kickers were swarmed as they came off the field after practice.

Problem was, what was presented to the media as something decisive and interesting didn’t have quite the same cachet for the kickers themselves.
When I asked Rayner about the competition afterward, he gave a long answer about them taking turns doing kickoff drills.

“But …” I said, perplexed. “I thought you guys were working on field goals.”

“We were kicking field goals also,” he said.

So I hemmed and hawed and then pointed out that I was pretty sure that it was the field goal competition that had everyone so revved up. Rayner looked legitimately bemused. “Oh, okay,” he said. “Every Thursday we kick field goals. At 2:15 we kick field goals with the team. Now that we’re in a regular game-week schedule, that’s apparently how we do it.”

(NOTE: Rayner has not forgotten what day it is; relative to a Thursday game, this was the equivalent of Thursday’s practice before a Sunday game.)

I asked punter (and holder) Hunter Smith about how things had gone, and he gave me a completely blank look. “What, out there?” he said, gesturing at the practice field. I nodded, and he went into full-on politician mode. “Well, they both kicked real well,” he said. “They’re both professionals. They’re both seasoned guys, and I thought they both kicked well. The thing about practice is that it is practice; we’ll have to see what happens in this last preseason game.”

Only long snapper Ethan Albright was willing to offer anything resembling an opinion, and even that he qualified about twenty different ways. “Both these guys look good,” he said. “To be honest, I’ve got a track record with Shaun, I’ve been in game-winning situations with Shaun, converted and won the games for us. Shaun’s the guy that I’ve got history with, and I’m comfortable with him. I’ve been there, been in games and the pressure situations, and I’ve seen him come through for us.”

(Let me interject here to note that Albright is correct here: Suisham is 18-20 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined in his career.)

“But both of them have real good legs,” Albright finished. “I don’t know Dave well, but he’s shown a very good leg in camp.”

This is not to say that there was nothing interesting about practice with the specialists today: watching them afforded me the chance to see Ethan Albright running pass routes for Hunter Smith as a way of returning the ball to the kicker during kickoff drills.

“He does that to show the guys that he’s young and fresh,” Suisham said.

And does he seem young and fresh? “Yes, he does.”

Rayner had a different interpretation. “I think he was just testing Hunter’s arm,” he suggested, “and, y’know … how many receivers do we have, including tight ends? You know, if twelve to fourteen guys went down, he’d probably be the first guy to get in there. He runs a good, nice route, good strides, good hands.”

Smith saw it as part of a long-term plan: “Ethan and I are planning for a life after football, which will be football in another league. We’re gonna start a league for players over 45.”

Albright hadn’t gotten the memo on this hypothetical old guy league, though, and told me that pass routes were him “just finding a fun way to get some running in. I feel like I’m 26, man,” he said. “It’s great to be out here on the field with these guys.”

I told Albright what Smith had said about the league for over-45 players, and he laughed. “I’m gonna still be trying to play on this team when I’m 45,” he said.

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