ANDY REID is keeping his assistants busy methodically studying their 2011 opponents, among other things.
If the Eagles' coaches had more time to sit and ponder the NFL lockout, they might really get depressed. So far, new line coaches Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn have had no opportunity to teach their philosophies. And as special teams coordinator Bobby April noted this week, "right now we don't have a kicker or punter under contract."
April said he feels a little better about the kicking situation than the punting, given that the Birds drafted Nebraska's Alex Henery in the fourth round last month, so presumably whenever the lockout ends, Henery will sign. But punter Sav Rocca is either a restricted (by 2010 rules) or unrestricted free agent. The Eagles tendered Rocca before the lockout, a designation that's only meaningful if he ends up being an RFA. They transition-tagged kicker David Akers, but Akers did not accept the tender, and there is no indication that device will carry through into a new collective bargaining agreement.
"We're at least set a little bit in the kicking game," April said. "We're a little bit in a state of flux; we don't know what's going to happen. But we'll get it resolved . . . If [Rocca and Akers] decide not to come back, or it doesn't get worked out financially, our organization's very good at knowing the next step."
Of course, Rocca is also the holder, so the potential is there for complete change, with very little preparation time. Henery was also the punter at Nebraska, but the Eagles don't plan for him to try to fill both roles.
It wasn't a shock that the Eagles decided they might want to move on from Akers, who is 36 and who missed two makeable field goals in a five-point playoff loss to the Packers. It was surprising that they decided to reach for a rookie, even one who set college accuracy records; conventional NFL wisdom holds that a kicker can't be trusted until he has been cut a couple of times and taken some lumps.
"Those cases are rare, and the [drafted] kicker's gotta be very good, obviously," April said, after referencing Detroit kicker Jason Hanson, who has been with the Lions since they drafted him in the second round back in 1992.
April said he has puzzled over why the transition has been so tough for college kickers (and punters, too, for that matter).
"The kicker and the punter should be the first guys that should be able to adapt to the game, because they're competing against the ball," April said. Unlike, say, a quarterback who has always played in a spread offense and has to learn to take the snap from center and drop back. "It's a tough job, obviously, because there's a lot of pressure to it, but they should be able to adjust to the game quicker than say, a tackle . . . [the challenge] is definitely mental. You've got to have a lot of confidence. That's one of the things we like about Alex Henery. He's really a confident guy."
April related a story from Henery's school-record 57-yard game-winning field goal against Colorado in 2008. April said Nebraska coach Bob Pellini asked Henery if he could make the kick, and Henery said: "Coach, I'll hit it."
April spent a day with Henery at Nebraska in March, and he came back sold on the kicker's mental toughness. Henery grew up in Omaha but only had scholarship offers from smaller schools. He walked on with the Cornhuskers.
"The year he went to Nebraska, Nebraska had just signed the top kicker in the country [Adi Kunalic, who ended up becoming a kickoff specialist]. [Henery] wanted to go to Nebraska . . . Probably every person in Omaha wants to go to the University of Nebraska, I would think," April said. "When I visited with him, I asked him, 'What were you thinking about when they signed the top kid in the country?' . . . He said, 'Well, I wanted to kick for Nebraska, and I was going there to beat him out.' He didn't say it all arrogant or anything . . . He's self-assured, and you have to be that way."
April said that while conventional draft strategy questions the value of drafting of kickers, another way to look at it is, if Henery has a successful career, he will score far more points and have a much bigger impact than just about anyone else the Eagles could have drafted in the fourth round.
"If he ends up being what we think he ends up being, he'll lead the team in points for 10, 15 years," April said. "That's a big weapon, now."
April said missing minicamp and OTA action because of the lockout might not be such a bad thing for Henery, who kicked and punted a lot this spring, heading into the draft.
Danny Watkins, the Eagles' first-round pick, is in the area to scout out a place to live, assuming the lockout ever ends and Watkins actually needs to live here. Fellow guard Todd Herremans took Watkins along on a Habit for Humanity build yesterday, in New Castle County, Del.
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