- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Few things can suck the life out of a football team more completely than kicking problems that won't go away. Shall we review the horrors of the Redskins' 2000 season, when missed field goals from very makeable distances — by a veritable chorus line of legs — cost the club three games and nearly a fourth?
Perhaps you remember Michael Husted blowing a 35-yarder with 43 seconds left against Tampa Bay. Or Kris Heppner botching one from 35 yards late in a 16-15 loss to Arizona. Or Eddie Murray coming up short from 44 with the Philadelphia game on the line. Or Murray plunking a 39-yarder off the upright in a 9-7 loss to the Giants, Norv Turner's last day on the job. If you're lucky, you don't remember; you either put it all out of your mind or hired a hypnotist to do it for you.
The question this morning, though, is: Why didn't the Redskins remember? More importantly, why didn't Dan Snyder and VP of football operations Joe Mendes remember? They were here when Brett Conway got hurt in training camp that season — and the nightmare began. The hope was that Conway would be himself again by Week 1, but the injury lingered and left the team scrambling for a replacement. The Redskins employed five different kickers that year in a fruitless search for some kind of stability at the position.
Anyway, we had the same scenario in training camp this season. Conway, who returned to the club last year, got hurt, and once again the team placed its faith in medical science and assumed his leg would come around. So what happens? He suffers another injury in the opener, and by the end of the game backup quarterback Danny Wuerffel is being recruited to squib a kickoff.
Sorry, but I don't get it. Nobody bats 1.000 on personnel decisions, but a team shouldn't make the same mistake/miscalculation twice, certainly not in the space of three seasons. Once Conway came up lame in August, the Redskins should have assumed something entirely different. They should have assumed his leg wouldn't come around, said, "Thanks for the memories," and brought in another guy. Another option: Keep two kickers on the roster, as some clubs do, until Conway is truly ready to return to action (or until his status is clarified). This is known as playing the percentages.
Instead the Redskins just crossed their fingers — and nearly lost their opener because Conway couldn't boot the ball deep on kickoffs. Make no mistake: Had any other opponent enjoyed the kind of field position the Cardinals did Sunday, the Redskins would probably be 0-1 along with the rest of the NFC East. (Thank you, Mr. Schedulemaker.
The Redskins' Plan B — for the moment — looks to be James Tuthill, who they claimed off waivers late in camp and then cut. Tuthill (6-2, 250) is built along the lines of Tom Dempsey and has a strong leg like him, too. But here's the thing: He made only 51 percent of his field goal attempts in college, has never made one in a regular-season NFL game and washed out this summer with the expansion Houston Texans (who preferred Kris Brown, the bane of the Steelers' existence last year, to him). This is who the Redskins could be turning to with games against Philadelphia and San Francisco - both of which may be decided by a last-minute kick — coming up. Beautiful, just beautiful.
Heck, at least the quintet of kickers in 2000 had previous NFL experience — not all of it good, mind you, but each had put the ball through the uprights a time or two. Tuthill is a total novice, a player who has "dated around" (49ers, Packers, Texans) but never found a club willing to tie the knot. Maybe he'll be terrific; plenty of kickers live the vagabond life for a few years before finding a home. But let's not kid ourselves, the Redskins would be rolling the dice by signing him — and isn't it about time they took the thrill out of the chip-shot field goal? I mean, Chip Lohmiller has been gone for nearly a decade now. How about a little continuity at one of the most important positions in the game?
There was a kid in Denver, Ola Kimrin, who blasted a 65-yard field goal — two yards longer than the regular-season record — for the Broncos in an exhibition game a couple of weeks back. Me, I'd want to take a look at him. I'd also consider calling up Mrs. Gramatica and asking her if she has any more sons. And, of course, there's always an Eddie Murray-type out there, if a club is so inclined.
(How old is Eddie, anyway? Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure he'd be celebrating his 70th anniversary in the league this season, too. So scratch him off the list.)
What the Redskins don't need right now is more drama at the kicking position. They need somebody who's going to be reliable from 40 yards and in, who's going to make all the kicks you should make (but that Heppner and Co. didn't make two years ago), and who isn't going to turn to jelly in the final minute of a game. Not to make a mountain out of a Tuthill or anything, but is this latest kicker they're considering really the answer?


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