- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Ponce de Leon spent less time looking for the fountain of youth than Norv Turner has spent looking for a kicker. Eight guys have kicked for Norv in his seven seasons as Redskins coach. How many can you name? Better yet, how many can he name?

Chip Lohmiller, Eddie Murray, Scott Blanton, Chris Jacke, David Akers, Cary Blanchard, Brett Conway and Michael Husted. Those are the eight in chronological order. And by the end of the week there could be a ninth. Tryouts are being held today at Redskin Park, with four more Hired Legs being brought in to show their stuff. One of them is Jacke, who temped for the Redskins three years ago when Blanton was hurt one week. That's how hard up the team is at this point. It's going through its little black book, calling up old flames.

Sunday was another Adventure in Kicking for the Redskins. Husted missed field goal tries of 33 and 42 yards and tried very hard to keep the underdog Eagles in the game. The week before, he had a 35-yarder blocked at the end of regulation that would have finished off Tampa Bay. And the week before that , he missed a 30-yarder and an extra point against the Giants. Such unreliability is not conducive to long-term employment in the NFL, especially when your boss is Dan Snyder. (Dan will probably hand Husted his severance pay and say, "Shanks for the memories.")

The Redskins can't go on like this, can't keep living week to week with their kicking game. In '98, you may recall, they went through four kickers (Blanton, Akers, Blanchard, Conway). This year they're on the verge of hiring their third and there are still 11 weeks left in season. No team with Super Bowl aspirations can afford such instability at such a key position. As Johnnie Cochran would say: If you can't make a kick, you'd better find a replacement quick.

"It's really been frustrating for me," Turner said yesterday. "We've found guys we've been high on, but we haven't been able to keep 'em [for more than a year or two]. Scott Blanton and Brett Conway had injury situations, and [with other kickers] we've struggled. I would love to get a guy and have him be here for a long time."

What's even more frustrating for Turner or should be is that a couple of kickers the Redskins have let go are doing just fine in other places. Blanchard has been reborn the past two seasons, making 18 of 21 field goal attempts for the Giants last year and 11 of 12 for the Cardinals so far this year. Akers, meanwhile, has found a home in Philly. He hasn't missed any of his eight tries this season. So it hasn't been merely a case of bad luck for the Redskins. Some decent kickers have passed through here and not been retained.

And let's not forget: It was Turner's decision to go into the season with Conway still suffering from a thigh injury an injury he wasn't able to shake. Norv could have changed kickers at the end of training camp, when more of a selection was available.

Stabilizing the kicking situation is absolutely "critical" Turner's word because, well, it would be nice if the Redskins could win a game by more than three points. Their problems in the field goal department have made it difficult for them to put opponents away, the Eagles game being a classic example.

"The way you get a lead on a team is to get a little bit at a time," he said. "You go up 7-0, and then maybe you kick a field goal and it's 10-0, and then you make another play and pretty soon the other team has to change the way it plays."

And when a team is forced to change the way it plays, to junk the running game and go almost exclusively to the air, it becomes one-dimensional and much easier to defense. Hypothetically, that is.

"Every time you miss an opportunity to make a play, you make it more likely you're going to be in a close game," Norv said. "I'm not just talking about the kicker. I'm talking about all areas of your team. Your offense not converting on third down or having back-to-back penalties that push you back [out of field goal range]. Your punt returner fumbling on the other team's 37. We haven't been good at [slamming the door on an opponent], and it's something we've got to improve."

Perhaps one of the kickers coming in today will be the answer to the Redskins' prayers. Every year, it seems, a veteran kicker or two gets picked off the scrap pile and resuscitates his career. Maybe this year it will be Jacke or Doug Pelfrey. At the end of the '96 season, Pelfrey was the most accurate kicker in NFL history, but the last few seasons haven't been kind to him. And now he's looking for work after being cut loose by the Bengals.

Of course, once upon a time, Michael Husted was considered a very competent kicker. In his first seven years with the Bucs, he made 73 percent of his field goal tries. And now he could be out of a job again. So it goes for kickers. Today's hero is tomorrow's unemployment statistic.

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