Chargers Draft Prospectus VII

Coming off a 4-12 season the San Diego Chargers have lots of needs. The debate rages on as to what to do with each pick and the fastest way to regain respectability. With losing seasons piling up, one position could actually prove the difference between wins and losses. And it is not what you may think.

There is perhaps no greater need in San Diego than at kicker. It is a position that is not glorified and often forgot about until Steve Christie makes his annual return. This year, the Chargers have not yet targeted a kicker, but do have Mackenzie Hoambrecker on the roster.

Don't be too thrilled. Last year Christie was re-signed on April 7 and despite a young kicker on the roster in a lost season, Hoambrecker never saw a sniff of the field. It is likely he still needs directions to Qualcomm.

What is obvious is the kicking game must improve. Not having the ability to kick a field goal from the 30 yard line (a 48 yard field goal) is insane in the NFL. The Chargers decided that over the last two years they would prefer to have a guy who was on the money from inside 40 and not much else.

Estimating close games and wins and losses thrown away is tricky business. Last year, for instance, it would not have helped too much. The Chargers were down so often it was scary. But there still could have been benefits. Kickoffs alone were an area that needed serious improvement. It didn't matter that the Chargers cover units were solid, when the ball landed at the 15 every time, the opposition would still have the ball outside the 30.

In 2002 the team lost three games by four points or less and the game they lost by four points, in St. Louis, was a direct result of punting instead of field goal attempts from the 30-35 yard line. There was a definite swing in the won loss column.

It has been estimated that special teams can win you anywhere from one-to-four games a year. Look at the Carolina Panthers. They went to the Super Bowl with the help of a kicking game.

It would help if the Chargers defense and offense was comparable. With a new defensive coordinator, that is the hope.

The fix is Nate Kaeding. He met with San Diego, who had their whole front office and head coach Marty Schottenheimer in town. They arrived on a Sunday night in Iowa, with Marty the only head coach in attendance.

Nate Kaeding
Kicker
Iowa
Ht: 6-0 Wt: 178
Combine Kickoffs: 65-4.22/70-4.09/75-4.38/65-4.35
Combine Field Goals: 30 yards: 3-3 35 yards: 3-3 40 yards: 3-3 45 yards: 2-3 50 yards: 1-3
Lift: 5-for-5 from five yards inside the end zone

"Strong legged kicker that's been very accurate throughout college. Thrives under pressure and comes up with the important field goal in game winning situations. Outstanding leg on kick offs; consistently drives the ball into the end zone kicking off from his own thirty yard line. Gets lift on the ball during field goal attempts and at the same time gets hang time on his kick offs, allowing coverage teams ample time to get down the field. Makes the tackle on kick coverage if necessary." Tony Pauline-TFY Draft Preview


"That's something that's working to my advantage because two of the teams that are showing some interest are San Diego and New York (Giants)," Kaeding said of his Pro Day visit. "They both are looking at Gallery having top picks. Him being a top pick, they bring in their whole organization. It gives me good exposure that another kicker wouldn't have the opportunity to have."

The Chargers, in fact, met Kaeding for breakfast. Then they flew out David Binn and Mike Scifres to work him out. A trend developing? One of the reasons they are drawn to him is because of his big game ability. He does not buckle under pressure and gets the ball up quickly – something new to San Diego fans. The few blocks in his career were more a result of a breakdown in protection.

"The teams that shared the conference title last year had maybe the two best kickers in the country," Keading said. "There's absolutely no coincidence about that. Teams that buy into the fact that every aspect of the game is important are the teams that are going to win ballgames.

"If you are going to look past a kicker, who on average is usually the highest scorer on your team, and you think that's not valuable enough, then you are crazy."

Kaeding is Iowa's leading all-time scorer. He has the "ice in the veins" mentality that all kickers need and works at his craft. One knock on him is he will work too hard and must be monitored on the practice field for fear of kicking too much.

Kaeding has also spent plenty of time researching what NFL teams need a kicker and came up with a few, namely the Chargers and Giants.

"You kind of have to look at it," he said. "You don't want to put the cart in front of the horse, but you need to be prepared. The most important thing to work on is my kicking at this point. My best tryouts were on Satrurday's during the fall."

The Chargers hope they can get lucky and land a kicker of his caliber. Given all the needs on this team, kicker being one, selecting him in the third round may not be such a reach. If this team is not a playoff team this season, having a kicker in year two as they make their "push" could be the difference between wins and losses.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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