In their Own Little World

One of the benefits of subscribing to Insiders Web-Extra is that we will publish selected content from back issues of the magazine. Eddie Johnson, in a story originally published in the magazine on January 7th, looks at the "breed all to themselves". You guessed it... kickers.

Kickers Are In Own Little World

For the most part, kickers in the NFL are a breed all to themselves.  In a sea of players, they are on an island.  They are in their own little world.

Position players, for the most part, leave them alone.  They know better than anyone what they need to do both mentally and physically to prepare themselves for that one kick that might very well win or lose the game.

Obviously, there is a huge amount of pressure on them every time they take the field.  Their margin for error is much smaller than that of a position player, who might very well screw up one or two plays a game, but he'll have a chance to redeem himself 50 other times.  Quite the contrary for a kicker.  He'll only have a couple of opportunities and if he screws up once or twice, he might very well be on the unemployment line come Wednesday morning.

The year I arrived in Cleveland in 1981, the Browns bid farewell to one of the greatest kickers in team history - Don Cockroft.  Unfortunately, most people remember him for his missed field goal in the 1980 playoff game against the Raiders.  That's not fair.  Cockroft was not only an excellent place kicker and punter, but also is a class act who deserves to be remembered in a more favorable light.  He was a legend in his own right.

Amazingly, the player who beat him out for the kicking job in 1981 was just the opposite.  Dave Jacobs was an arrogant person who thought his butt didn't stink. Once he won the job in the preseason, he thought he had a lock on the position for the rest of the year.  I was only a rookie that year, but I'll never forget how he simply couldn't get the job done, yet he remained very arrogant.  It's very rare you'll ever see teammates go up and say anything to a kicker if he fails, but we had guys go up to Jacobs and say, "Kick the fricking football! That's what you're getting paid to do."  He just didn't cut the mustard, yet he remained very cocky.

Several weeks into the regular season, the Browns were able to pick up Matt Bahr, who had established himself as an excellent kicker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  When Matt arrived, it was a totally different ball game.  Matt was very, very intelligent.  Matt brought something very few kickers bring ... a certain amount of confidence.  You could see it on his face.  Matt Bahr expected to make every kick he ever attempted and he was never afraid to stick his nose in there on kickoff coverage.  In fact, he missed most of one season after breaking his leg making a tackle on a kickoff.  You have to respect a guy who doesn't back down from anything.

Speaking of kickoffs, I think that was one of the problem areas for the Browns this year.  Make no mistake, Phil Dawson is an outstanding field goal kicker.  Unfortunately, he doesn't have the leg strength to do either of the two things necessary on kickoffs.  You either have to be able to kick a ball with a lot of hang time to the 15 yard line where your coverage unit can make the tackle around the 20 or 25 yard line or, the other option, of course, is to put the ball into the end zone.

We had a kicker, Steve Cox, who had a very, very powerful leg.  We would run down on kickoff coverage and almost hope he wouldn't put the ball in the end zone.  As a special-teamer, you want to go down there and hit somebody.  You want to cause a turnover that would put your offensive unit in outstanding field position.  When you go down and smack somebody, you get yourself ready to play defense.  You get your adrenaline flowing.  If you're going to run that 40 or 50 yards, you might as well make a tackle, which didn't always happen because Cox was so good at putting the ball in the end zone.

I don't think the current Browns' coaching staff realized early on just how much of a problem Dawson has kicking deep.  Allowing teams to start at the 30 or 35 yard line consistently after kickoffs is unacceptable and puts the defensive team in a difficult situation.  It opens up the playbook for the opposing offense.  However, I think the Browns realize this problem now and I expect it will be addressed in some way before next season.  Let's hope.



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