No longer automatic, kicking game becoming problem
Commentary by DAVID CLIMER
I wonder if the voice inside Jeff Fisher's head ever whispers those three little words that meant so much:
For 10 seasons from 1991-2000, Al Del Greco was the Titans' place-kicker of record, bringing accuracy, consistency and accountability to the position. He didn't make every kick, of course, but he almost always delivered in the clutch.
"It's something you can very easily take for granted," Fisher said.
He's not taking it for granted now, though. In the aftermath of the kicking meltdown in the Titans' preseason game at Atlanta on Friday night, Fisher is fishing for answers at a position that for so long was on auto-pilot.
Neither Rob Bironas nor Ola Kimrin, the two kickers on the Titans' preseason roster, has proven himself NFL worthy. At Atlanta, Kimrin missed an extra point. Bironas misfired on field-goal attempts from 37 and 44 yards — "severely missed, not just slightly wide left or wide right," Fisher said.
This is a slice of NFL life for a kicker. A week earlier, Bironas hit a 53-yard field goal to tie the Titans-Bucs game at the end of regulation. Then he was doomed in the Georgia Dome.
Of all the things Fisher has to worry about, kicking should not be among them. Why should it be? The world is full of guys that can fit the ball between the uprights. How come the Titans can't find one?
Yesterday, Fisher suggested that either Bironas or Kimrin can still turn things around in practice and in the final two preseason games. It's a good thing the coach wasn't hooked up to a lie detector. He might just as well have said Shane Boyd is ready to compete for the starting quarterback job.
No, those missed kicks left a mark. The coach's confidence has eroded, probably past the point of no return.
Here's betting the Titans' kicker of record in '05 is not yet on the team's roster. Fisher mentioned yesterday that just about every team in the NFL is carrying two kickers on its preseason roster, so there are some lively legs who will hit the marketplace in the next week or so.
"We're going to keep an eye on things and see who's available," Fisher said. "Most clubs have two and will be forced to make a decision."
Of course, Fisher could always speed-dial Gary Anderson and pull him out of his Minnesota trout stream and into the Titans' camp. Twice in as many years, Anderson has brought his old-school face mask and unerring instep to the Titans' rescue when Joe Nedney came up lame.
But Anderson is getting long in the tooth and short on the kickoff. He's 46, and for all his uncanny accuracy he doesn't have the necessary leg strength to be the Titans' kickoff man.
In the last two years, the Titans worked around that by having punter Craig Hentrich kick off.
But the extra work affected Hentrich's punting.
Nor do the Titans have the luxury of carrying a punter, a place-kicker and kickoff specialist on the 53-man roster.
"The same guy is going to do both," Fisher said.
Remember, this is a team on the rebound from a 5-11 season and thus has no margin for error. The Titans can't afford to whiff on a 37–yard field goal, much less an extra point.
"We expect to make those," Fisher said.
It's time for somebody to put his best foot forward. •