During one special teams portion of practice Tuesday, return man Nolan Carroll II set up around the goal line to return a kickoff.
As Alex Henery booted the ball, Carroll back-pedaled until he was about to run into the field-goal post and ultimately realized he’d be unable to field it.
The players were in shorts, the pressure was non-existent, and this was only one kick. But it was an image Chip Kelly and the coaching staff are counting on seeing more of in 2014.
“Yeah, I think he’s gotten a little bit stronger in terms of the distance he’s kicking the ball and in terms of where we are placing the ball during kickoff drill,” said Kelly when asked about Henery. “Excited to see where it is, especially when we get into some real live situations. The tough thing with the kickers is we can’t rush them, we can’t do anything. A lot of times right now it’s like they are going out on the driving range and hitting balls. It’s not real live action for them. Again it’s another position where we won’t have anything determined until we get into preseason camp and get into some preseason games.”
There are different ways to measure the effectiveness of kickers. Overall field goal percentage is largely irrelevant because it doesn’t take distance into account.
Brian Solomon of McNabbOrKolb.com did the best kicker study I’ve seen this offseason. For field goals, he measured each kicker against the league average, taking distance into account. Solomon found that Henery ranked 26th when compared to his peers. Football Outsiders, meanwhile, ranked the Eagles 25th on field goals/extra points.
In all, Henery missed six of 30 field goal attempts. Five of those were from 45+ yards out. Two missed wide right, and four missed wide left.
“This time of year, everything’s about corrections,” Henery said. “Just going and looking back at what went wrong on those that you did miss and just getting those out of there. If you hit 10 good balls, you don’t want that one bad one. So it’s just getting in there, hitting the consistent ball and eliminating those.”
On kickoffs, the study showed Henery to be 32nd in the NFL. Football Outsiders ranked the Eagles 31st as a team. And they notched kickoffs just 40 percent of the time (24th in the NFL).
“No,” Henery said when asked if he was happy with his kickoff percentage. “I think I can always get better. The thing I worked on a lot is to get that number up – more touchbacks so we don’t have to cover as many kicks.”
Henery said the Eagles didn’t have any special sports science suggestions for improving his leg strength.
“A lot of it’s technique,” he said. “You don’t have to be the biggest guy to be able to kick the ball the farthest. Like golf, some little guys can hit the ball farther than the big guys. So a lot of it’s technique, just getting your steps right, hitting the ball where you want to hit it, and it’ll fly for you.
“I wasn’t too consistent with my steps, and that would cause me to hit more higher balls on my kickoffs. So just getting more consistent with those, and then hopefully the ball will fly farther and get a little higher up.”
The Eagles signed Carey Spear as an undrafted free agent, but at this point it would be an upset if he unseated Henery this summer.
For now, the team is counting on Henery’s offseason work leading to better results once the games begin to count in September.