Breath of fresh air for Longwell

GREEN BAY – The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field will lend a hand in helping Packers kicker Ryan Longwell solve his kickoff woes.<p>

Longwell has struggled kicking off this season, and averaged just 53 yards a kick last Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau. As a result, the Bears had excellent field position most of the game, but couldn't take advantage and lost to Green Bay 17-7.

This week, while preparing to play the Tennessee Titans at Adelphia Stadium in Nashville, Longwell and the kickoff team will practice at Lambeau instead of the indoor Hutson Center.

"I talked at length with Ryan today, and we decided to do more kicking outside," said Packers head coach Mike Sherman. "We also will try to adjust his schedule because I think we might be overkicking him a little bit."

Sherman said Longwell would continue to practice field goals inside, then go to Lambeau for kickoffs. He also said Longwell didn't seem to boom the ball as well as he could against the Bears. "He was concerned about slipping on the soft turf, so he approached the ball more gingerly than he could," Sherman said. "He didn't attack the ball."

Longwell, who signed a multi-million dollar contract before the season started, also has struggled making field goals. At one time Longwell was the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and had never missed more than six field goals in a season. This year he has made 14 of 23. Against the Bears, a 41-yard attempt hit the right upright and fell to the field. Twice this season he made missed three kicks in a row after never missing more than two in his career.

Sherman said he and Longwell are confident the fifth-year kicker can straighten things out. "We just need to monitor how many balls he is kicking," Sherman said. "He still has his confidence based on what he has done before. Being a kicker is like a baseball player – you will go through funks. Right now I'm looking for answers, so I'm putting this under the microscope. But we think we have a good plan to fix it."

Longwell also had a bad day kicking off against the Bears on Nov. 11 at Soldier Field. So bad that the team signed kicker James Tuthill, and considered making him a kickoff specialist. But he was released before the Nov. 18 game against the Atlanta Falcons, and Longwell kicked off well that day.

Longwell got his start in the NFL on the heels of a kicker's injury and ineffectiveness. In 1997, Longwell was signed by the Packers as a free agent just before training camp started. Third-round draft pick Brett Conway missed several field goals in a preseason game, then injured his leg trying to fix the problem the next week. Longwell has been the Packer kicker ever since.

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