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The Value of Football Specialists- NY Times article


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Injury to Jets’ Nugent Underlines the Value of Football Specialists

By GREG BISHOP

Published: September 8, 2008

Strange but true. Joe Theismann, the former Washington Redskins quarterback who turns 59 on Wednesday, and Kellen Clemens, the Jets’ 25-year-old backup quarterback, connect in a roundabout sort of way.

After Jets kicker Mike Nugent left Sunday’s game in Miami in the first quarter with an injured thigh, Clemens and safety Kerry Rhodes took turns practicing kicks into a net.

Neither Clemens or Rhodes attempted one because Nugent returned to the game in the second half, kicking an extra point in the third quarter. But Theismann once was pressed into similar emergency kicking duty, in 1985 against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Well, he gave it a try. His punt traveled 1 yard.

Charley Casserly, a former N.F.L. general manager and current league analyst, was a Redskins executive then. Asked if Theismann punted again in his career, Casserly laughed.

“No,” he said. “I think Joe retired as a punter after that.”

Casserly’s story underscores the sometimes overlooked value of N.F.L. specialists. They are players who operate on the fringe of teams, in near anonymity, at least until they make mistakes.

On Monday, when the Jets had the rare day off after their 20-14 victory, Coach Eric Mangini said there was no update on Nugent. The Daily News on Monday reported that the Jets had reached agreement with Jay Feely, a former Giant who was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dolphins during training camp.

Feely’s agent, Glenn Schwartzman, confirmed that Feely signed with the Jets and said Feely will be kicking Sunday. Schwartzman said Feely is “very excited” about his return to football.

Nugent’s agent did not return calls.

The season-ending injury to Tom Brady deservedly captured attention across the league Monday, but an injury to the less celebrated Nugent would have a significant impact on the Jets’ season.

Last season, the Jets played six games decided by 4 points or less, including in three of their four wins. They beat Miami, Pittsburgh and Kansas City with field goals booted by Nugent’s right foot.

Even though Clemens is the career leader in extra points at Burns High School in Oregon, he joked that “the good news is the expectations were pretty low” about his kicking. While Clemens was warming up on Sunday, the Jets elected to go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Dolphins’ 22. Brett Favre threw a wounded spiral for a touchdown.

The difference between replacing kickers compared with other players, Casserly said, was that teams cannot keep backups and develop them the way they do with other positions. Some teams do not even bring an extra kicker to camp. Others do so to save their starting kicker’s leg strength.

Each N.F.L. team has an emergency list for just this kind of situation. When he was with the Redskins, Casserly lost kicker Jess Atkinson when he dislocated his ankle in the 1987 season opener. The Redskins signed Ali Haji-Sheikh, the former Giant, to take his place.

“I’m sure the Jets were on the phone Sunday, maybe before the game was over,” he said.

Mangini clarified a few minor kicker-related items Monday. He said that Nugent injured his right thigh, his kicking leg, on the Jets’ second kickoff, which looked like a squib kick but was not supposed to be. Later in that quarter, Nugent missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt.

While Clemens and Rhodes practiced their kicks, the Jets asked Favre if he had ever attempted one. Punter Ben Graham even practiced drop kicks on the sidelines.

“It’s one of those things you never think is really going to happen, and you really hope it doesn’t happen,” Mangini said.

EXTRA POINTS

The first-round draft pick Vernon Gholston played Sunday, but did not register a defensive statistic. “I thought he did some positive things,” Eric Mangini said. “You know, one place where he actually had a nice impact was on the punt-return team.”

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Kicking a field goal isn't the hardest thing in the world. It's kicking the ball with enough initial height to get over the rush while timed well that is the problem.

I can kick the ball far, but in pads, with a rush, its a whole different story. And that becomes a whole different topic when it shifts from extra points to even a 30 yarder or something of that distance.

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