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August 14, 2009For most of Thursday afternoon's practice, it was just the same old, same old. Half-speed offensive drills here, individual defensive technique drills there.
Then there was junior kicker Thomas Weber. And his powerful right leg.
About an hour into practice, the team set up for the field goal drill and let Weber do his thing.
It didn't start off too well, as he missed from 37 yards, but he stayed true after that. Even the 57-yarder he attempted to cap off the drill didn't faze him. In fact, it would have been good from 67 yards. Easy.
"His leg is so strong," coach Dennis Erickson said. "Anything up to 60 yards, he's got a chance to make. He's special."
Erickson has coached some good ones in his career, most notably Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson, at Washington State in the late '80s.
As it turns out, Erickson was the placeholder for arguably the greatest kicker of all time back in his playing days at Montana State in the late 60's.
Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker to ever be enshrined in the NFL's hall of fame, wouldn't be half the player he was if it weren't for Erickson. Depending on who you ask, of course.
"I made him everything he is," Erickson joked. "Put him in the hall of fame myself."
While Erickson didn't want to compare Weber to either Hanson or Stenerud, he said Weber is among the best kickers he's ever coached.
After winning the Lou Groza award during his freshman year in 2007, Weber's production scaled back a bit last season. He wasn't bad (19-of-25), but he struggled from beyond 40 yards out (3-of-7). Weber also admitted that he spent too much time worrying about statistics, numbers he now thinks have limited - if any - importance.
Weber and the rest of his kicking unit, sophomore long-snapper Thomas Ohmart and junior holder Trevor Hankins, also spent plenty of time together in the offseason to work on their timing.
Special teams coach Jamie Christian also implemented a new tactic - though seemingly insignificant - that has made life much easier on Ohmart and Hankins. Instead of the usual seven-yard snap that most teams use on field goals, Christian has introduced the seven-and-a-half yard snap. To a long-snapper, those 18 inches make a huge difference.
"It's a lot better for me," Ohmart said. "I was working with [a] seven [yard snap] trying to get [the laces to face forward] but it wasn't quite working. Once they moved us to seven-and-a-half, that was like my magic spot."
Ohmart said the ball probably only gets another half-rotation, but that it makes all the difference in the world for him and Hankins.
"As a kicker [I don't even notice it]," Weber said. "It's more of a difference for the holder and the snapper. We just kind of showed up in camp and coach made the decision that they want it at seven-and-a-half and we just do what they say."
The end of practice featured the two-minute drill, which looked a bit better than in previous days. The afternoon's final play wasn't a memorable one for freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler, who threw a deep interception to freshman safety Matthew Tucker.
"Brock just threw it up," Erickson said. "That's a learning thing for a young guy. I mean, we're in field-goal range. We're in field-goal range, we're down by two - which is what our situation was - so, why? Probably in that situation I would have ran the clock down and not even screwed around with that. You know, call a time out and kick. But that's not what we're trying to accomplish [with the drill]."
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