Kicking Game Much Improved

Pretty much since Mack Brown started at Texas, the Longhorns have been blessed at kicker.

Whether it was a clutch kick to beat Nebraska (multiple times) or Justin Tucker's boot to end the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry, Brown has seemingly had a rabbit's foot keychain in his pocket in key moments. And that looked like it would continue to be the case in 2012, when the Longhorns added not just an all-conference level kicker/punter in Penn State's Anthony Fera, but also an all-conference punter in Alex King.

But while King made the most of his graduate transfer year, averaging 45.3 yards per boot, Fera struggled with a groin injury, attempting just two field goals and making one. That was a pretty rough blow for a kicker who entered the season on the Lou Groza Award watch list after earning All-Big 12 mention in making 14-of-17 field goals at Penn State as a sophomore.

In Fera's absence, former Coppell star Nick Jordan assumed the kicking duties, making 9-of-15 kicks, but missing a few key ones, and going just 1-for-6 from 40-plus yards.

So, where does that set up Texas heading into 2013?

"We're in better shape than we were last year," Brown said. "Anthony was just coming in, he was hurt. Will was having a bad back. Nick Rose and Nick Jordan had just shown up."

Now, according to Brown, Fera and punter William Russ are healthy, while Rose and Jordan have more experience. And that has led to infinitely more competition at the positions.

Brown said that, if the season were to play out right now, Fera would be in the lead at kicker over Jordan, with Rose continuing to handle kickoff duties.

A walk-on, Rose was something of a revelation for the team a year ago, because of the hang time he was able to create as a kickoff specialist. With the new return rules, and a touchback no longer bringing the ball out to the 20, Texas experimented throughout last season, with Rose alternating between putting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks and "sky-kicking" the ball to force returners into action.

At punter, the battle is closer, with Russ having what Brown called "a little bit of an edge."

"But they're both very competitive," Brown added. "We're proud of seeing what Will has done after his back operation."

In 2011, Brown mentioned that Tucker, a highly effective kicker who made 17-of-21 tries that season while also serving as punter, might have been overworked trying to perform double duty. At the time, Brown mentioned that Tucker might have had "dead leg" a bit, using Tucker's 39.2 yards per punt average as the primary evidence.

With that as the backdrop, If Fera, who handled both duties and performed both well at Penn State, finishes neck-and-neck with Russ, or even just slightly ahead, what would Brown do?

"The perfect world is if we could have each one done individually, that would take some pressure off the other," Brown said. "If Anthony is the best punter, that is a close battle right now, we would punt him. But it would take pressure off if each one of them did one of the individual kicking chores."

No matter which way the kicking battles turn out, Brown said he thinks the Longhorns will be better suited than they were in 2012, when two of his primary kicking game options were injured, and another two were freshmen.

"They compete every day," Brown said. "Every competitive kick, we time the operation. Obviously we have a chart to see who is the most accurate and who is getting it off the quickest. That competition will continue."

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