So many people underestimate the need for a good placekicker. Each year the problem is magnified as teams ignore special teams and pay the price. As an example, the New England Patriots almost fell from grace when there kicker missed two field goals in the Super Bowl and they have a great kicker, Adam Vinatieri. So when the 2004 NFL draft rolls around, kickers will again be largely ignored, yet, they represent one third of the game.
Given that special teams is so important, why arenâ€™t more kickers drafted?
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Dan Orner, a placekicker out of North Carolina, said with a slight hint of disdain. â€œIt is kind of a unique club to get into. Once you are in the league â€“ and it is pretty hard to get in â€“ and get a couple games under your belt and get that security you have the possibility of staying for 15 years and sometimes 20 like Gary Anderson, Morten Anderson and John Carney.â€
Orner knows it is a special fraternity and is out to gain access. He is pledging now to become a member come fall.
He has had his share of egg to deal with and all the razing that goes on at the collegiate level. He knows the meaning of high-pressure, having to perform at a school that is instantly associated with college athletics. Orner has also had to make sure he did his job in practice or feel the brunt afterwards.
â€œCoach Bunting, in practice, put a lot of pressure on me, making me kick the last second field goal everyday in practice â€“ to start practice and to end practice. You get a lot of pressure on you when 70, 80 guys are relying on you to make the last kick so they donâ€™t have to run sprints. Not getting beat up by those guys is a little bit more pressure than any other kick,â€ Orner said with a still nervous chuckle.
Considering tips the scales at 5-8, 170 pounds, it is no wonder he feels the pressure.
What was big was Ornerâ€™s leg. The Michigan State transfer came into Chapel Hill and was the starting placekicker in 2002 and 2003. As a junior, Orner missed one kick from inside 40 yards and tied an NCAA record by hitting three 50+ field goals â€“ in one game! The longest, a 55 yarder, broke the school record.
Not bad for a first year kicker at a new school.
Orner followed that up by going 3-4 outside of 50 yards in â€™03 and connecting on 12-16 overall. He also didnâ€™t miss an extra point, going 35-of-35.
Orner sees his long distance kicking as a selling point. If a team knows he can hit from 50, there is not much else to show.
â€œThe majority of my kicks were outside of 40 yards. I probably only kicked six field goals under 40 yards. Fortunately, I was able to make a majority of those kicks and that my coach trusted me enough to kick outside of 50 yards, 55 yards. I was able to take advantage of those.â€
Orner admits it may have hurt to be on a team that is not widely recognized for its football program. Although improving, North Carolina is simply not a powerhouse like it is in soccer and basketball.
â€œI think it does help to be on a team that is on TV every week and is winning,â€ said Orner. â€œGetting into the red zone and allowing the kicker to get 25-yard field goals so when you go out there it is no big deal. You got teams like LSU and Oklahoma and they are kicking 25-30 times and the majority of the field goals are under 30 yards. As a kicker it is a big confidence booster and getting comfortable on the field. Instead of feeling the pressure that I may only get 13 tries and I really have to make the best of them.â€
Those 13 times compound the issue originally brought up. Kickers may not get the playing time of other players, but they are just as important to the big scheme of life in the NFL. Teams are starting to put their best players on special teams instead of the spot reserved for role players. Shouldnâ€™t the kicker be the highest priority on special teams?
Stop the talk of Dante Hall and give the good kickers a break. They are the difference in two to four games a season. That is especially true in this parity driven league. One player could mean the difference and wins is what the NFL is built on.
For the real answer on what a kicker means to a team, we consult Orner:
â€œIt depends on the situation. A lot of times kickers are kind of viewed as not doing as much a everyone else, but if you have a kicker who can consistently kick the ball deep or directionally kick the ball where the coaches ask, it helps field position. That was definitely displayed in the Super Bowl. A kickerâ€™s value â€“ they are only as good as their last kick. As proved in the Super Bowl with (Adam) Vinatieri because he missed two before and made the one that counted. If you ask people which one they remember, they are only going to remember the last one.
â€œThey are very valuable to a team and won and lost a lot of ball games this year in college and the NFL.â€
Dan Orner sees his value next season â€“ winning games in the NFL.