CFL teams kicking sub-par kickers to the curb

 

Change to the PAT rule is leading to more missed field goals and more player turnover

 
 
 
 
BC Lions kicker Richie Leone says the trend across the CFL of kickers missing more field goals ‘has everything to do with moving the extra point back,’ noting it’s all about confidence and getting in a groove.
 
 

BC Lions kicker Richie Leone says the trend across the CFL of kickers missing more field goals ‘has everything to do with moving the extra point back,’ noting it’s all about confidence and getting in a groove.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

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When the CFL and NFL decided not to stand pat with the PAT (point after touchdown) this season, little did they realize careers and championship aspirations would be so impacted by the need to add a touch of drama.

Months (CFL) and weeks (NFL) into the experiment of moving converts back to the 32-yard line and 15-yard line, respectively, what was once automatic has become an adventure, an unintended consequence of ridding the game of the boring PAT.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (a team Richie Leone of the B.C. Lions tried to stick with earlier this year, as a punter) are on their fourth kicker, and the NFL season is only into Week 5.

Kyle Brindza of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who has missed five of his last seven field-goal attempts and six of 12 overall), meet your doppelgänger to the north, Lirim Hajrullahu of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He missed four field-goal attempts last Saturday in a 24-23 defeat to the Edmonton Eskimos, resulting in a new candidate, Sergio Castillo, being called to the bar in an attempt to lift the football over it tonight against the Lions at BC Place Stadium.

Winnipeg’s understanding head coach Mike O’Shea, who was a special teams coordinator with the Toronto Argonauts, is not giving Hajrullahu the boot. He’ll still handle punts and kickoffs as the 4-10 Blue Bombers go in search of a must-have win against the 5-8 Lions in the West Division turtle derby for third place.

O’Shea is, rather, icing his regular field-goal kicker in the sense of giving him a timeout.

“He’s going through what a lot of kickers have gone through before. It’s nothing new,” O’Shea says. “Lirim had a sensational year for us. He’s in a downward trend, but we want him to work his way out of it.”

In 2014, his rookie season, Hajrullahu was one of the CFL’s most accurate kickers, tying a franchise record with 87 per cent field-goal accuracy. This season, his crushing misses (Hajrullahu has made only five of his past 12 attempts) are part of the widespread carnage brought on by the neuroses-inducing effect of asking kickers to convert high-pressure kicks and extra points all the time.

“Absolutely, there’s more on our plate this year,” says Leone, who handles punts, kicks and kickoffs for the Lions. “The convert is now a field goal. Instead of asking kickers to make 30 or 40 field goals a year, you’re multiplying that by two or three. And a convert from 32 yards is no gimme. The misses are happening. And they’re happening on both sides of the border. It kind of seems like a trend.”

After making 14 of his first 15 field-goal attempts — in his rookie season as a regular kicker, no less — Leone was the closest thing the Lions had to money. His punting, challenging the league record 50.6-yard average set by Jon Ryan of the Blue Bombers 10 years ago, was Ray Guy-like.

And yet, he has been under some serious stress of late, missing chip-shot field goals and shanking punts — like the one in Edmonton two weeks ago that flipped field position for the Eskimos and led to their game-winning touchdown.

“It has everything to do with moving the extra point back,” he concedes. “Converts used to be a confidence-builder. You could just knock those things through and not think about it. You get into a groove, you get into a rhythm. When they moved it back, you’ve got to hit a more pure ball. Absolutely, it’s affected the ability to make field goals.”

After that uncanny 93.3 per cent success rate to start the season, Leone’s mojo has gone south on him. He has made only eight of his last 14 attempts, though he hit four of five field-goal tries in last Saturday’s 46-20 win over Saskatchewan.

In that game, Leone missed a convert, and blew an easy field goal that went for a single. In the late going, however, with the game already decided, head coach Jeff Tedford gave Leone the green light to attempt two field goals longer than 40 yards, in the hope that he might find his groove again.

“The mental part of the game is so critical,” Tedford says. “If you miss one or two of them, it can get in your head. We probably could have tried to run the clock out last week. But I felt like it was important to give Richie some extra chances to kick. It was mainly for him to go out and have some success. And he kicked three in a row. I thought he responded really well.”

Mission accomplished. But for how long?

mbeamish@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/sixbeamers

 
 
 
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BC Lions kicker Richie Leone says the trend across the CFL of kickers missing more field goals ‘has everything to do with moving the extra point back,’ noting it’s all about confidence and getting in a groove.
 

BC Lions kicker Richie Leone says the trend across the CFL of kickers missing more field goals ‘has everything to do with moving the extra point back,’ noting it’s all about confidence and getting in a groove.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

 
BC Lions kicker Richie Leone says the trend across the CFL of kickers missing more field goals ‘has everything to do with moving the extra point back,’ noting it’s all about confidence and getting in a groove.
BC Lions kicker Richie Leone says the trend across the CFL of kickers missing more field goals ‘has everything to do with moving the extra point back,’ noting it’s all about confidence and getting in a groove.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Lirim Hajrullahu follows through on a kick during CFL football practice in Winnipeg, Man. Tuesday October 06, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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