April 4, 2013

Kickers striving for consistency

For Purdue's specialists, practices this season are different than the prior few.

They're more reliant on their own, coaching themselves or helping each other to become better. That's not atypical for most college teams, who infrequently use one of their nine assistant slots on a full-time kicking coach. But when Purdue had J.B. Gibboney, a former college kicker, as its special teams coordinator, he could instruct in those areas.

"It certainly was nice," place-kicker Paul Griggs said. "It was something a lot of the rest of the country didn't have. But now it's more on the individual to take care of what we need to take care of. For me, I can't just go out to the field and have Coach Gibboney put me through some drills.

"Now, I need to know ahead of time, that these are the things I need to work on: I need to work on my stance, need to work on my ball-striking, whatever it may be. It's more on the individual."

The Boilermakers, with Griggs and Sam McCartney battling for PK duties, along with kickoff specialist Thomas Meadows, still do have instruction. Defensive graduate assistant Brian Mason often watches film with the specialists, giving pointers when he can. And he develops their daily workout routine, which can be adjusted if the Boilermakers feel they need extra work in a certain area.

"Mostly it's self-taught," said McCartney, a walk-on from nearby West Lafayette High School. "I've had the opportunities - I try to mention this every time - to work with Carson Wiggs. He's taught me about everything I know about kicking, so if I ever have any problems I'll make sure I call him."

But Purdue's kicking results this spring have been mixed, particularly with consistency. Griggs and Meadows have the power to hit from deep, and can on occasion, but are scattered from closer, as well. McCartney might be more consistent from inside 40, but lacks the power to hit from beyond that.

"We've both been struggling a little bit," McCartney said of he and Griggs. "Some days we do well and some days we don't do as well. Not having a coach like Coach Gibboney, you really need to make sure you push yourself. I like to think I'm very hard on myself. Day in and day out we're competing and I'm sure Coach (Darrell) Hazell and the staff will make sure the best player gets on the field."

It's a battle with no clear front-runner midway through the spring, meaning it will likely last into fall camp and possibly beyond. But both feel more experienced now - and more adjusted to the competition - with those factors possibility helping this season.

Last year, the duo rotated. Griggs took the longer kicks, like his game-winner at Iowa, and McCartney handled the shorter. The former hit four of his seven field goals last season, making 2-of-3 from both the 30-39 length and 40-49. He missed his only attempt from 50-plus. The latter was 5-of-7, including 2-of-3 from 20-29 and 3-of-4 from 30-39. He didn't attempt one further than 40.

"I think we certainly have matured a lot, grow and gotten better since this competition we've been having since fall camp," Griggs said. "I'm enjoying it. It's fun coming out each practice - it's a little different with Coach Hazell - but we're loving it and getting for a good season."

Griggs, who came to Purdue as a scholarship kicker and one of the highest-regarded in Rivals' rankings, says he's pleased with how he's been striking the ball. And he feels more experienced now, after the ups and downs of a season ago. He lost the job out of camp, regained it when McCartney struggled with extra points, then hit the game-winner at Iowa, only to see his competitor kick the short ones a week later.

"I've got a whole season under my belt," he said. "I've got that to draw on. I'd say I'm a lot more settled, more comfortable now.

"I wouldn't say my approach has changed. You're still kicking the same ball through the same uprights. But you have more confidence now, more sure of yourself."

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