Archive for January, 2009

Athletic Kickers and Punters are the New Football Norm

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad                                                                                                                                   Football Talent Advisors, Ltd.

Sounds strange to say but today’s football punters and kickers generally have extensive athletic backgrounds.  That wasn’t always the case in the past but in today’s game of football these players are asked to do much more than just kick a ball.  For example, many punters are asked to play safety after they kick and several times each season make touchdown saving tackles.  Mitch Berger of the Pittsburgh Steelers made a touchdown saving tackle on a punt return by the Ravens, Jim Leonhard, during the AFC Championship game this past week.  Punters and kickers today are also asked to carry out fakes and run the ball on occasions as well…which requires a higher degree of athleticism and football skill. 

Since Jan Stenerud and the introduction of “soccer style” kicking  many of today’s kickers have soccer in their athletic backgrounds at the junior high , high school, and sometimes college level.  In fact, Jan Stenerud was a terrific ski-jumper, went to college on scholarship for this sport, and is the only true kicker / punter in the NFL Hall-of-Fame. 

Stenerud started the movement of kickers with soccer backgrounds.   The following NFL great kickers and punters all had soccer in their athletic backgrounds: Gary Anderson (Steelers & Vikings), Morten Andersen (Saints & Falcons), Neil Lowery (Chiefs), Olindo Mare (Dolphins & Seahawks), Sebastian Janikowski (Raiders) and  Mark Mosley (Redskins).  The list could go on and on.  But soccer isn’t the only other sport that many successful kickers and punters participated in. 

It is true that kickers and punters, position-wise, have the lowest high school track and field participation, followed by quarterbacks.  There are many surprising examples of all-time greats that were also successful track athletes.  Ray Guy (Oakland Raiders), arguably the greatest punter ever, was a state caliber discus thrower in high school and he also performed the high jump in high school.  Brian Moorman (Bills – punter) actually participated in the NFL fastest man competition in 2006!  A punter did that!  He’s actually got an extensive track background and was a state champion high hurdler in high school and NCAA Division II 400 meter hurdle champion in college. 

There are many examples of kickers and punters with athletic backgrounds in high school track: Eddie Murray (Lions), Hunter Smith (Colts), Kris Brown (Texans), Rob Bironas (Titans), Adam Vinatieri (Patriots & Colts), Chip Lohmiller (Redskins), Kyle Larson (Cincinnati), Jay Feely (Eagles),  and Jason Elam (Broncos).  Interesting enough Kris Brown and Hunter Smith were 6’08” high jumpers in high school and Steve Weatherford (Saints – punter) was a state caliber high jumper and 300 intermediate hurdler. 

While the total number of kickers and punters that participated in high school track is statistically rather small there are many extraordinary examples.  But there’s no doubt that most of today’s kickers and punters have extensive and varied athletic backgrounds and are more complete football players than ever before.  We need only look at this year’s Lou Groza Award winner (Top Collegiate Placekicker), Graham Gano of Florida State.  He became the first punter to win MVP honors in a college bowl game at this year’s Champs Sports Bowl. He is the top rated placekicker in the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft.  

By the way, Graham ran an electronically timed 11.34 / 100 meter dash and 22.68 / 200 meter dash at his high school regional track meet in 2005.  Not bad…for a kicker!

Here’s a link to an interesting article that follows up on this topic:

Big Ten Bowl Issues…

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad    Football Talent Advisors, Ltd.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 A whole lot of attention has focused on the Big Ten going 1-6 during this year’s bowl season.  I’ve heard many reasons, factors and excuses attributing to the conference’s lack of success come bowl time.  And this is not a new thing, by the way.  Big Ten football has been on a perceived downturn for a while.  At least it appears the Big Ten has struggled in the last few years against out-of-conference competition, particularly the SEC. 

There are a few recent outcomes that could and should downplay some of the talk…like Iowa whipping South Carolina in the Insight Bowl and Michigan defeating Florida in a bowl last year.  But this year’s bowl outcomes only contribute to the growing talk that the Big Ten is lagging behind certain teams in the other major conferences. 

But how exactly are Big Ten programs falling behind?  What are they not doing that apparently the other conference powerhouse programs are doing?  Is it that the Big Ten is being outcoached year in and year out?  Doubt it.  Much of the talk done by the media and most articles out there accuse the Big Ten of not recruiting speed or of favoring size of players over speed and athleticism.  Is this correct?  No. 

The Big Ten does recruit speed.   The problem, as we see it, is the Big Ten does not recruit enough speed, more accurately enough pure athletes.  Picture this, we did several large recruiting class studies on multiple schools in the Big Ten (including Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan) and several schools in other major conferences (including Southern Cal and Texas).  We researched each player recruited from each of these schools during the 2005-2008 recruiting classes.  Then we applied our tier system to each recruit that participated in high school track and field. 

FTA  found that Big Ten schools were way behing USC, Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma in recruiting and signing athletes in the Tier 3 threshold (highest based on high school track statistical performance).  By way behind we mean this: USC (16 – Tier 3 players) , Texas (22 – Tier 3 players), Florida (20 plus – Tier 3 players), Oklahoma (17 – Tier 3 players), Ohio State (12 – Tier 3 players) and Michigan (14 – Tier 3 players).   Michigan has the highest number of Tier 3 recruits, but that number is misleading because 13 of those recruits came during the 2007 or 2008 recruiting classes.  So Michigan had only one Tier 3 recruit during the 2005 and 2006.  Big reason why Rich Rodriquez had to play many true freshman and the Wolverines had a dreadful 2008 season.

It might be easy to dismiss the numbers but Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, and USC have Tier 3 recruits / players at a multitude of positions, including the offensive and defensive line.  In fact, all four of these teams each have several Tier 3 line players.  Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Penn State have zero Tier 3 offensive lineman. 

Kirk Herbstreit mentioned, after the Rose Bowl, that USC just seemed to have more speed at the linebacker, secondary and line positions than Penn State.  He also mentioned that was the case during the USC / Ohio State game earlier in the season.  Does Herbstreit have a case?  We think so based on our research.  Again the Big Ten does recruit speed and athleticism but when Big Ten teams are systematically compared to other powerhouse teams from other conferences they don’t stack up well in this regard. 

This speed versus size argument also played out in other bowls; look at this year’s Sugar Bowl.  Alabama really struggled.  Yes, they were missing a great offensive tackle in Andre Smith but the game was still out-of-hand.  Why?  Most experts believed Alabama was the most physical team in the SEC and that Utah was no match for them.  Here’s what Stevenson Sylvester, Utah linebacker, had to say, “It was all hype,” Sylvester said of Alabama’s physicality. “We were a lot faster than they were and speed kills, that’s what we preach over here. It was great. We just got back there on them and used our athleticism.”

Obviously Utah did out play Alabama and clearly had more team speed.  There is something else interesting to note regarding this matchup.  Utah has about 30 college and junior college transfers.  Alabama had only nine senior scholarship players this season.  Did this have anything to do with the outcome of the game…who knows but I thought it was interesting.  It does indicate that Utah has brought in an enormous amount of talent and speed with transfers.  Utah’s starting players in the secondary have extraordinary high school track and field backgrounds.