Bryant’s preseason misses have Falcons worried
Matt Bryant knows how fickle the kicking profession can be.
He’s made nearly 82 percent of the field-goal attempts in his
career. Still, three misses in the preseason – including an extra
point – have the Atlanta Falcons worrying about another uncertain
season in the kicking game.
”That’s one of many concerns I have,” coach Mike Smith said
Tuesday. ”You’ve got to kick the ball between the uprights,
especially on extra points. When you’re kicking a 50-yarder, it’s a
little bit different situation. But we’ve got to make extra
Bryant is 3-of-5 on field goals in the first three exhibition
games, missing from 47 and 50 yards. That wouldn’t be a major issue
if not for a botched PAT in last week’s win at Miami.
He’s kicking himself for making a slight change in his motion
after the dirt of the baseball infield at Sun Life Stadium nearly
caused him to slip on his first extra point.
”I like going out here in practice and doing everything a
certain way. Then, to try to do something different, it’s not
good,” the 35-year-old Bryant said. ”It’s a lesson learned. Do
everything the same way every time. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
I’ve got to move on and have amnesia for the next game.”
Although Bryant feels like he’s got the confidence of his
teammates and coaches, he knows it only takes another miss or two
to put his job on the line. The Falcons face Jacksonville in their
final preseason game Thursday.
The Falcons don’t have any other kickers on the roster, but
there could be some intriguing possibilities once teams make their
final cuts. In Houston, for instance, the Texans must decide
between Kris Brown, the last original member of the franchise, and
Bryant knew that nothing was secure, even after the Falcons cut
ex-Baltimore kicker Steve Hauschka in mid-August.
”People asked me how the competition was going, and I was like,
‘I’m not just competing against him,”’ Bryant said. ”There’s 31
other teams with two kickers apiece (in training camp). You’ve got
to go out there and own your spot, own your position.”
Stability at this high-profile position has eluded the Falcons
since Jay Feely left after 2003. They’ve gone through six kickers
in the last six years. More troubling, they’ve had to make a
midseason change three of the last four years.
Michael Koenen – still the team’s punter – flopped in 2006 when
the Falcons tried to give him all the kicking duties. Matt Prater
missed three of four attempts before he was dumped two games into
the ’07 season. Both times, Atlanta turned to ancient Morten
Andersen to finish out.
The Falcons seemed to have solved the problem when longtime
Denver star Jason Elam was signed as a free agent in 2008. He had
one brilliant season – 29 of 31 on field goals and perfect on 42
extra points – but inexplicably lost his touch in ’09.
Elam was cut after 11 games, having made just 12 of 19 field
goals and missing a PAT. Enter Bryant, who had been kicking in the
UFL after being cut loose by the Buccaneers.
Although Bryant was certainly more effective than Elam (7 of
10), he connected only once in four attempts from at least 40
yards. That’s what cost him his job in Tampa Bay, where he made 32
of 38 in 2008 – but only 5 of 11 from 40 yards and beyond.
”When a kicker makes a mistake, everybody in the stadium knows
about it,” Smith said. ”When an offensive lineman or defensive
lineman makes a mistake, you have to have a trained eye to really
know who made the mistake. But special teams are not like offense
and defense. When you’re out there on special teams, you’ve got one
snap. … You don’t get a second chance.”
Bryant said he’s hardly missed at all during practice, and he’s
certainly shown plenty of mental toughness during his career.
His 3-month-old son died unexpectedly in 2008. One day after the
funeral, Bryant returned to kicked three goals in Tampa Bay’s
victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Last December, his father – a major influence in helping him
reach the NFL – succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease. After attending
the funeral in Texas, Bryant rejoined the Falcons and kicked two
field goals in their season-ending victory over the Buccaneers,
which gave Atlanta back-to-back winning seasons for the first time
in franchise history.
”I’m kicking with all these people on my back, so to speak,”
he said. ”You can find motivation everywhere.”
NOTES: The Falcons cut two more players Tuesday to reach the
NFL-mandated limit of 75 before the final exhibition game. The most
notable name was DT Thomas Johnson, who was waived after starting
10 games last season. Injuries hurt his chances to stay on the
team. The Falcons also terminated S Matt Giordano with an injury
settlement. He signed with the Falcons in March after spending last
season with Green Bay.