Hoambrecker vs. Christie

Perhaps the juiciest battle expected, especially from a fans perspective pits newcomer Mackenzie Hoambrecker versus wily veteran Steve Christie. The San Diego Chargers are looking for an upgrade at kicker, especially kicking field goals beyond the 40 yard line. With offensive additions this offseason they figure to be in scoring range more often this coming season.

The placekicking situation directly affects the punting situation this season. Like it or not who wins this job will influence the outcome of who punts this offseason and who is responsible for kickoffs.

Kickoffs aside the question is who will make field goals with consistency from inside the 40 and make the tough ones outside of 40 with some regularity.

The fan favorite on the Chargers squad has to be Mackenzie Hoambrecker, formerly of Northern Iowa, who was signed as an undrafted free agent.

Hoambrecker finished his senior season 25-of-29. He also led the NCAA I-AA in field goals made (25) and field-goal percentage (.893) with at least 11 attempted, finishing 11th in the nation in scoring with 93 points. He set a school and Gateway Conference record when he hit five field goals in a game, performing the feat twice in 2002. He actually made more field goals then extra points in 2002.

As a junior Hoambrecker made 18-of-25 field goals, with a long of 45, and 41-of-43 extra points.

One mark against him is he kicked in a dome during college, but his longest field goals came outdoors, and his division is not known for its weather.

Steve Christie, a 14-year veteran, was re-signed to a one-year deal by the Bolts on April 7th, 2003.

Christie is considered to be automatic inside 40. His numbers indicate this to be true. He was 13-14 inside 40, but a kicker is truly measured on how he does outside of 40. Christie went 4-9 between 40-49 yards, and 1-3 outside of 50 yards, ending the season 18-26, good for 69.2%.

Christie was also 7-11 when the team was behind, all four of his misses coming outside of 40 yards.

Since 2000, Christie has seen seven of his kicks blocked, more than double the amount he had in his career spanning the ten years prior to 2000.

Why is it so important to make a kick outside of 40 yards? Field position is one reason.

The situation:

The ball is at the 30-yard line. It is 4th down, 7 yards to go. You can't punt, the gain is just not worth it, and going for it is risky. Let's bring on the kicking team to try a field goal:

Scenario 1:

The holder sits at the 38-yard line waiting for the ball to be snapped. 48 yards is the total distance of the kick. In most circles in the NFL, this kick is doable. The ball is snapped, the kick is up…short and pulled to the right.

The defense gets the ball at the 38, the spot where the holder sat waiting for the snap. Thank the Chargers special teams for giving the opposing team an extra first down.

Now the opposing team needs to drive 32 yards to get into field goal range themselves, and if they score the point swing could be as much as 10 points (3 for missed field goal, and 7 for a touchdown).

Scenario 2:

The holder sits at the 38-yard line waiting for the ball to be snapped, the kick will traverse 48 yards. The ball is snapped the kick is up, and is GOOD!!!

The Chargers get 3 points and we go to commercial break. Now the Chargers can kickoff and potentially pin the opponent deep in their own end and maybe even win the field position battle.

Now the Bolts have added three points and have set themselves up for success with good coverage of the kickoff. For arguments sake they stop them at the 20-yard line on a touchback (for those of you who cannot recall that term used in the Chargers annals, it is when the kickoff lands in the end zone and the returner decides it is not wise to return it and takes a knee). Now the opponent must drive 50 yards just to get into field goal range (two extra first downs from the previous scenario) and 80 yards to get a touchdown.

Everything done on special teams has a cascading effect. It can be just as important as playing offense and defense.

Only one stays from this bunch, but what are the implications of each choice?

If Christie stays, it means two "punters" will be carried. That much is certain. Scifres would handle kickoffs and Bennett would handle the punting duties.

If Hoambrecker gets the nod, Scifres would just handle punts, and Hoambrecker would handle the entire place kicking duties.

I am going out on a limb here to say the situation needs to be changed. Christie is not the answer.

With Christie gone, Hoambrecker would handle field goals and kickoffs. That would leave Mike Scifres to just handle punts, the way it should be. There is no reason to have one person handle punts, one to handle kickoffs and another to handle kickoffs. That is counterproductive and the Bolts would be again getting into the too many specialists realm again.

As Hoambrecker said, "Coach (Steve) Crosby, their special teams coach, said they are only bringing me in. It's me versus Steve Christie, who has had a phenomenal career. He's a 14-year vet.

"It sounds like a good chance to compete, and Coach Crosby said the best person will win."

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net or via the following link: Denis Savage

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