Saints Kicking Team
The Saints kicking team working on timing
The Associated Press
It takes barely a second. In the time you can say "One Mississippi," the ball must be snapped, placed, aligned and kicked.
It's a task performed by the three most specialized players on the team and it's done while a group of very big, very tough men are rushing at them.
"It's under 1.35 seconds so it really has to be second nature," said New Orleans Saints kicker John Carney. "You have to make sure it's going to work before you go out there."
Carney just kicks field goals. Kevin Houser does nothing but snap the football for punts and field goals. Mitch Berger kicks off, punts and holds for Carney.
Not for this trio the hours of blocking, tackling, running, passing and defending that the rest of the team goes through. Instead they spend hours working on getting the football from Houser to Berger so that Carney's foot hits it just so.
"It's all timing," said special teams coach Al Everest. "It has to be snapped and placed on ground, the laces turned and leaned just so. And that's all done with several 600-pound players trying to get to them."
The trio has changed this year because Toby Gowin has been replaced by Berger, who spent years holding the football for Gary Anderson to kick.
"Gary liked the ball leaning away and forward," Carney said. "I like the ball slightly away and leaning back. So it is an adjustment for Mitch."
Berger was holding the ball when Anderson kicked a field goal against Buffalo which established him as the NFL's leading scorer and when Anderson was on a record-setting perfect 94-for-94 during the 1998 season.
"We do a lot of reps so I can get the ball down just the way John likes it," Berger said.
Carney, a 14-year veteran, has become known for his kicking accuracy. Last year he scored 130 points for the Saints, third-highest in the NFL. Carney has converted 87.9 percent of his field goals since joining the Saints in 2001.
"We can adjust and we sometimes have to," Carney said. "But the better we have the ball placed, the better the kick."
Carney still remembers a time when his holder couldn't get the ball placed and just left it on the ground.
Berger's other jobs with the team are to punt and kick off. His reputation for accurately punting and for kicking balls high enough for the coverage teams to get down field, are what the Saints liked. They also like the distance Berger gets on kickoffs. He once kicked a Vikings-record five kickoff touchbacks in a playoff game, which eliminates the danger of a returner getting a big play.
Both Carney and Berger kick soccer style. In fact, Carney said the straight on kicker is a thing of the past in the NFL.
"That type of kicking took a big guy with a lot of leg strength," Carney said. "That meant a big guy, and these days if you have a big guy they aren't being made into kickers, they're going to be linebackers or running backs or something like that."
Houser played tight end in college and made long snaps. He developed the skill as a youngster, snapping for his older brother in the back yard.
There was a time when an NFL long-snapper would also play another position on the team, generally tight end. Everest said that's old-school. These days, it's worth it to keep a player solely for the ability to snap the football the distances required for kicking and punting.
"It's a good thing," Houser said. "Or I'd be doing something different these days."
Saints Kicking Team
No knock on Houser or Everest but, if one of our regular down guys were capable of the long snapping it would free up an entire roster spot. That could mean an extra playmaker on special teams could be added to the 53 man roster that also has the ability to play some downs at their regular position. It would seem like with three natural centers on the team in Fontenot, Bentley, and Jacox, one of these guys or some other could get the job done. However, I do realize the importance of the accuracy, timing, and consistency of the deep snap. That is why when I posted the thread with my roster predictions I kept Houser. I was however, itching to keep an extra LB, WR, FB, or DB.
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