Longwell: Back to basics

After trying a different approach last season with mixed results, Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell is going back to what once made him the most accurate kicker in the NFL – brains over brawn.<p>

"All indications are he's kicking the ball well," coach Mike Sherman said. "The ball's popping off his foot."

Seeing the "old" Longwell is a welcome sight for the Packers.

When the 2001 season opened, Longwell was the highest-paid and most accurate kicker in league history. Short kickoffs were the chink in his armor, however. Longwell set out to become a more complete kicker with a weight program designed to put more power into his kickoffs.

The new-look Longwell saw a change, but it wasn't the one he wanted. Rather than improving his kickoffs, Longwell's weight program ended up messing up his field goal accuracy.

"I could lift an ox, but it didn't help my kicking," Longwell said. "I was a lot stronger than I had ever been but my endurance wasn't there and thenI was kicking off a lot more in practice during the week and I was spent by the time I got to Sunday."

The 2001 campaign started well enough for Longwell, but he hit a miserable six-week stretch in the middle of the season. Longwell finished with just 20 connections on 31 attempts last season (64.5 percent). He was last in the NFC and 28th in the league, a stark contrast from his 84.7 percent accuracy built over his first four seasons.

Special teams coach Frank Novak helped Longwell halt the mid-season slide by cutting back on the kicker's practice time. The rest paid off. Longwell went 10-of-12 down the stretch and was 3-for-3 in the playoffs including a game-turning FG in the win over San Francisco.

After consulting with his coaches and his father, Longwell decided that fatigue played a part in the skid, but the underlying cause was his decision to change in the first place.

"Because of my size and the climate here, I'll never be a guy who will hit it 10 yards deep every time," Longwell said. "I can hit it with the best of the m inside the 5. But it's the one that I mis-hit and it goes to the 20 and that's the problem.

"So, I don't really need more strength like I thought last year to get it farther. What I needed was to be more consistent," Longwell said. "If the one I mis-hit goes to the 12 instead of the 20, that's a huge difference." A change in training this season has contributed to a leaner Longwell with an emphasis on stretching over bulk and distance over speed. So far, so good. Longwell's hangtime is up to a 4.0-second average and he consistently hits on field goals.

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