Eagles in a quandary at kicker

Posted: August 25, 2014

Lacking a true position battle for months, the Eagles have less than a week to figure out whether they have a kicker on their roster or if they will have to look elsewhere to fill a thankless position that teams sometimes overlook until it's too late.

A series of decisions that stretches back to drafting Alex Henery has the Eagles crossing their fingers that he will find his nerve, or Cody Parkey will be the exception to the rule about rookie kickers, or some better option will drop into their laps.

The situation is obviously not ideal for a team that has high expectations and can ill afford to lose games because its kicker can't execute routine duties.

Henery has missed 2 of 3 field-goal attempts this preseason - one from 47 yards and another from just 31. Chip Kelly said that Henery had been productive in practice after he sliced the 47-yarder against the Patriots last week. But the Eagles coach had no excuses following the chip shot shank vs. the Steelers on Thursday night.

"I don't know what he's battling," Kelly said after the game.

Henery, who made a 36-yard attempt against Pittsburgh, said that the few bad kicks he's had this summer have just come at inopportune times. He seemed to respond well to the May signing of Carey Spear, who was released on Saturday. Henery was clearly better than the undrafted rookie. But the bar was low.

And when he was wide right on the 31-yarder just a day after the Eagles dealt for Parkey, who was already in uniform and helping with kickoffs, it suggested he had let the pressure of competition affect him.

"I'm pretty mentally strong," Henery said on Saturday. "I feel like I can move past those."

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they can't simulate game conditions during practice this week and will have to rely on their offense to provide multiple kicking opportunities in their final preseason game. And there isn't a way to test an amorphous skill like clutchness.

"There is nothing we can do," Kelly said. "We can't get another scrimmage or another game. We have to make decisions based upon the amount of time we have Cody in here with Alex, and we go from there, and that's it."

Henery has yet to be asked to kick a game-winning field goal in three NFL seasons. He missed a 48-yard attempt in the Eagles' 26-24 playoff loss to the Saints in January.

Parkey was good on 14 of 19 field-goal tries last year at Auburn, but he missed a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter of the BCS championship game. He hit a 22-yarder in the fourth to expand Auburn's lead to four points, but Florida State rallied and won, 34-31.

"It was just a bad kick, you know?" Parkey said. "You've got to move on from every kick, and that was just a bad kick that I've moved on from."

The Eagles sent special teams coach Dave Fipp to work out Parkey before the draft, but when teams were scrambling to sign undrafted rookies, they didn't call, the kicker said. The Eagles had narrowed in on another Southeastern Conference kicker - Vanderbilt's Spear.

Parkey said five to six teams had called after the draft and that his agent suggested he sign with Indianapolis because Adam Vinatieri - despite being one of the best kickers of all time - was 41.

The Colts gave Parkey a chance, unlike the Eagles with Spear, who never kicked in a game. Parkey, who led the nation with 69 touchbacks as a senior, handled kickoffs in two preseason games and 6 of 11 were not returned. He didn't attempt a field goal until the second half of the second game but connected on tries from 45 and 31 yards.

But Vinatieri, despite missing a 29-yarder in the first game, prevailed. He was one of several prominent free-agent kickers the Eagles could have acquired in the offseason, but it was unclear how available some of them were.

Vinatieri and the 49ers' Phil Dawson signed with the respective teams on the first day of free agency. Steven Hauschka didn't re-up with the Seahawks until the seventh day of free agency, though. He re-signed for three years and $9.15 million.

The Eagles had the opportunity to acquire two young kickers who are in roster battles. The Giants' Brandon McManus and the Saints' Derek Dimke signed futures contracts on Jan. 2. The Eagles and Saints faced off in the playoffs two days later. Two days after the loss, general manager Howie Roseman said Henery would have competition this offseason.

McManus, a Temple and North Penn alum, was an undrafted rookie with the Colts last summer. He has made both field-goal attempts from 46 and 47 yards for the Giants this preseason, and 10 of his 11 kickoffs have been touchbacks.

Josh Brown, the Giants incumbent, has been just as good. Dimke, a veteran of two previous preseason competitions with the Buccaneers and Lions, is looking to supplant journeyman Shayne Graham in New Orleans.

There are 12 other teams with two kickers on their rosters. And there are unsigned free agents with long resumés like Rob Bironas, Rian Lindell, and David Akers.

Akers is training in Nashville and is ready and willing, his agent, Jerrold Colton, said. The Eagles have been down that road before with varying degrees of success.

Of course, since they replaced Akers with Henery after selecting him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, there haven't been many kicking highlights.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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