Big 12: Dan Titchener
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Who needs a quiet summer? Alex Henery is doing his best to stay busy by trying to win another job with Nebraska.
It's why Henery is trying to build on his record-breaking start as a kicker by becoming the Cornhuskers' regular punter.
But whether booming high spiraling punts or drilling balls through the uprights, Henery has confidence he can help the Cornhuskers at both positions.
|Josh Wolfe/Icon SMI|
|Nebraska kicker Alex Henery is looking to add the punting duties to his plate in 2009.|
"It's something that I can do," Henery said. "Some kids are strictly kickers and others are punters. I feel like I can do both. It's a challenge I feel like I can accomplish."
Henery actually came to Nebraska as a punter after averaging more than 41 yards per kick at Burke High School in Omaha in his junior and senior seasons. Those numbers earned him all-state honors as a punter from the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star in both seasons.
But when he arrived at Nebraska, his chances at the position were stifled with Dan Titchener and Jake Wesch in front of him on the depth chart. After sitting out a redshirt season, Henery moved to kicker where he has blossomed into one of the nation's most consistent performers once he got his chance.
And he earned Bo Pelini's ultimate compliment when he was described as "a stud" after his record-breaking 57-yard kick that helped beat Colorado last year.
During his college career, Henery has missed only one extra point and one field goal attempt inside of 50 yards. He is the most consistent kicker in Nebraska history to this point.
"I couldn't imagine things turning out much better for me than how they've worked out," Henery said. "I'm happy with how things have gone so far. My career has worked out pretty well."
Even with that early success, Henery hopes to build on that by punting this season after the graduation of Wesch and Titchener.
Few college players have been successful at both jobs. But recent success by Wake Forest standout Sam Swank and West Virginia's Pat McAfee have convinced Henery to give it a shot.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
You'll always be surprised during spring practice.
Coaches know that. Reporters do, too.
But still, there were a couple of developments that were kind of unexpected across the Big 12 during the spring.
Here are some of the most notable after all of the teams finished their spring work.
Kansas' move of Jeremiah Hatch to center: Conventional wisdom always holds that teams build their offensive line around their tackles. Hatch had some stumbles last season as a freshman, but showed a lot of upside in his development. But the loss of starter Ryan Cantrell at center and the development of Tanner Hawkinson at left tackle enabled coach Mark Mangino to move Hatch to his more preferred position at center. This move has huge ramifications as Hawkinson will be protecting quarterback Todd Reesing's blind side. That task might be the most important one on the team as the Jayhawks challenge for their first undisputed Big 12 North title.
Colt McCoy looks human: The Heisman Trophy finalist has carved up nearly every opponent in the first three seasons of his strong career. En route, he has set nearly every school passing record and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season. Maybe it was the wind at Texas' spring game. Or it might have been the absence of top receiving threats Jordan Shipley and Blaine Irby due to injuries. Or more probably, it was the fearsome performance of Texas' secondary. But McCoy completed 11 of 24 passes for 95 yards against his teammates. He had completed less than 50 percent of his passes in a game only once in his career.
Top recruit Jason Hannan leaves Oklahoma: The Sooners' offensive line was in flux already with four departed starters. But Hannan, who some recruiting analysts had graded as the nation's top center prospect in his class, decided to leave late in spring practice. Ben Habern had beaten him out for the starting job, but Hannan still could have helped. It's surprising when any prospect leaves the Oklahoma program -- particularly one that was such a heralded recruit.
Robert Griffin gives us track for this spring: It's a mark of Griffin's commitment to his team that he gave up track this spring after winning the Big 12 championship in the 400 hurdles last season and finishing third nationally. Griffin has decided to devote himself to football, adding more weight and building strength and football flexibility as he prepares for the upcoming season. I still expect to see Griffin challenging for a position on the Olympic track team one day, but his aims now are directed to getting the Bears to a bowl game first.
Paul Rhoads' frank assessment of his talent: When the new Iowa State coach said he needed 30 practices to help build his young team, it probably wasn't just idle talk. Rhoads knows his defense never would be mistaken for the "Steel Curtain" of the Pittsburgh Steelers' glory era. I was just surprised he would say that, as well as talking about his team's "average speed." It means that Rhoads clearly sees his team has a long way to go before its Sept. 3 opener against North Dakota State.
Alex Henery's conversion to punter: The Nebraska kicker developed into one of the finest kickers in college football when he converted 18 of 21 kicks last season, including the record-breaking 57-yarder than helped beat Colorado. Henery came to Nebraska as a punter and was clearly interested in doing both after Dan Titchener and backup Jake Wesch graduated. But I'm a little surprised Bo Pelini would let him do both. Why mess with a good thing, particularly when Henery could challenge for the Groza Award this season with another strong season as a kicker?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Alex Henery might have saved Nebraska's season in 2008 with his dramatic record-breaking 57-yard field goal that helped beat Colorado in the final minute.
Now, he's got another challenge with the Cornhuskers.
Henery first walked on at Nebraska with the idea of working as a punter. But that all changed over the past two seasons as he has emerged as one of the most consistent kickers in school history.
But with the graduation of punters Dan Titchener and Jake Wesch from last season, Henery is returning to his booting roots, so to speak, this spring.
"I knew both of them were going to be gone, so I figured I might as well give it a try and see what would happen," Henery told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "You can't lose anything trying."
That's why he's trying to accomplish a rarity in college football today as he attempts to double as a kicker and a punter.
"I wouldn't have even introduced the idea to him about punting if I didn't think he could handle both," Nebraska assistant coach John Papuchis told the Journal-Star. "If there is ever a point in time where he feels stressed on where he needs to spend the majority of his focus, we'd have to make a decision then. But right now I think he is able to handle both pretty well."
As big as Henery was last season, maybe he's trying to make himself even more indispensable for his team by doing both jobs.
Amazingly, Henery still isn't on either an academic or athletic scholarship for the Cornhuskers.
His big kick against Colorado helped catapult the Cornhuskers into a New Year's Day bowl game and helped push along Bo Pelini's transformation of the program that much faster.
He even received the ultimate compliment from Pelini, who referred to him as "a stud" after his heroics against the Buffaloes. That kind of flattery from the Nebraska coach is usually reserved for quarterbacks and defensive tackles.
But if he can prove himself as a punter and a kicker, it might get Henery a scholarship. And that would be an even bigger reward than any game-winning kick or postgame platitude from his coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
My recent lists were meant as more than mere filler serving up a little anticipation before the season begins. Readers take these things pretty seriously, so I figured I might give some of my rationale behind a few of my more controversial recent blog posts.
Here goes in another mailbag:
Rock from Olathe, Kan. writes: Tim, are you smoking something? How in the wide, wide world of football could you ever imagine that Baylor is a better job than Kansas State. I'm interested to hear your answer.
Tim Griffin: I've been pilloried across the Sunflower State for my recent post ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs. Again, as I clearly stated early in my missive, it was strictly my opinion. Remember, the thesis of my piece was what job would be attractive for me as a young coach starting my career.
I think, and still believe, that recruiting is the biggest facet in college football. I hate to sound like some of those coaches I've heard over the years, but haven't you heard "It's not about the Xs and the Os as much as the Jimmys and the Joes"?
Baylor is located in one of the fertile areas of the nation, even with its many recent struggles. Kansas State must go out of state or depend on junior-college additions. I think that's the biggest factor that boosts the Baylor job over Kansas State to me.
Also, I think the Baylor facilities are a tad better than those at Kansas State. The facilities that will open later this year at Waco are state-of-the-art. Kansas State's are a little older. The two stadiums are comparable.
It's also been shown in recent years that Baylor's financial commitment to football is stronger than Kansas State's. Art Briles got a contract of more than $1.8 million per year to take the job at Baylor. Ron Prince needed two years before he got past $1 million. And Kansas State has previously struggled keeping up with other Big 12 teams in terms of keeping assistant coaches because of salaries. I've heard that is supposed to change. But we'll see.
Obviously, past success provides a huge advantage for Kansas State. But the days that Bill Snyder first starting turning around the program are more than 15 years ago. And it will be tough for Kansas State to climb back into contention in the North Division.
If I was a young coach, it might be more attractive for me to turn around a downtrodden program than one that's had previous success. That's probably why there's a statue of Grant Teaff outside of Floyd Casey Stadium and he never took his team to a bowl higher than the Cotton Bowl. And he's very much alive to enjoy the notoriety, too.
Here's another way to judge the difference in the programs and the perceptions they have among coaches. The last two coaches to be hired at Baylor were a head coach from the nation's strongest conference (Guy Morriss, Kentucky) and another head coach who had developed one of the nation's top non-BCS programs (Art Briles, Houston). Kansas State hired an offensive coordinator from an ACC school (Ron Prince, Virginia). It looks like head coaches in the business might see some appeal in Baylor -- or at least those two -- for many of the same reasons I've mentioned.
But again, it was the difference between 10th and 11th in the conference. And in my opinion, it was very slim. But I had to pick one and I chose Baylor.
Lindsay from Oklahoma writes: Everyone is talking about the Sooner offense...what do you think about the Sooner D?
Tim Griffin: For a team that doesn't have many, I think the Sooners defense remains the biggest question for me. DE Auston English is back after having his appendix removed and I expect him to round into shape as the season progresses. A bigger loss could be LB Austin Box, who is out with a knee injury for several weeks. MLB Ryan Reynolds hasn't shown he can make it through a season without getting hurt. And I still think the Sooners will miss Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton as the season progresses. Oklahoma still is the best team in the South and might be in the Big 12 as well. But in order to play up to their lofty BCS expectations -- and actually win a bowl game for a change -- the defense is going to have to gel.
Baby Tate writes: Thank you for posting my article of the 12 Surprise Whippings of College Football from the Bleacher Report. But I want to clarify why the Colorado-Nebraska game wasn't listed. My time period was 1965-2000. I'm pretty much an old timer and I prefer to write about periods with which I'm most familiar. My next article could be "How The JFK Tragedy Affected The Choice Of The Air Force Over The More Deserving Memphis State Tigers of Spook Murphy in 1963".
Tim Griffin: Sorry for the confusion on that, Baby. And I know a lot of my fellow Memphians have never gotten over that Spook couldn't take his Tigers to a bowl game after that 9-0-1 season in 1963. And the closest we ever got to bowling when I was in college was on those Thursday fraternity nights down at the local 10-pin lanes.
Rob from Nacogdoches, Texas writes: Tim, I've seen the Howard Schnellenberger video that you posted a couple of days ago. What's the one thing that sticks out most to you after watching it?
Tim Griffin: It's not the confidence that the veteran Florida Atlantic University coach obviously has for his team, his suspenders or the way he repeatedly flashes his Super Bowl and national championship rings at the camera as he rubs his hands. I'm thinking more about how well that comfortable orange chair he was sitting in would go in my study.
Caleb from El Reno writes: I recently read your ranking of the Big 12 quaterbacks. How do you put Daniel over Bradford? Bradford holds the advantage in size and athletic ability, not to mention Bradford handed Daniel his only two losses last year. It just doesn't make any sense to put one quarterback over another quarterback who beat him heads-up twice.
Tim Griffin: Except maybe if one of those quarterbacks had Curtis Lofton playing on his team and the other one didn't, it does.
Orlando writes: Bradford, give me a break. He's another ESPN creation. Passing efficiency is another way to hide the fact he gets his butt kicked away from Norman.
Tim Griffin: It's hard to argue with a record number of touchdown passes he threw last season as a freshman, isn't it? And although Bradford has one of the best offenses in the country surrounding him -- think Colt McCoy of Texas in 2006 -- he still is a pretty tough customer. I've seen him withstand some withering hits during his short career.
Gary in Pleasanton, Calif writes: Tim, It was nice hearing Kirk (ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit) mention something about Nebraska. There are a couple of coaches that are from the #1 and #2 teams last year that now with Nebraska. Could you maybe shed some light on why Nebraska never gets any press whether they are ranked or not?
Tim Griffin: Gary, I'm going to differ with you on that. I think Nebraska got a lot of publicity nationally when it was on its national title binge in the 1990s. And I think that it gets its share in the Big 12 as well. Maybe not to the levels of USC, Florida, Oklahoma or Texas, but the Cornhuskers haven't been to that BCS-level in recent years, either.
If Bo Pelini turns things around for the Cornhuskers, I can guarantee you'll hear a lot from national commentators. And it just won't be coming from his old college teammates like Herbstreit.
Adam writes: Tim, Love your blog! My question though: you ranked the top 10 big 12 offensive lineman, leaving out Oklahoma State. Are you aware OSU led the l
eauge in rushing, and gave up very few sacks (not sure where the lack of sacks ranks in the league). Last year our best lineman, Russ Okung, shut down the country's top defensive end (in terms of sacks) in the Independence Bowl. How can a unit, arguably strongest in the league, and a top linemen like Okung be missing from your listing? What is the criteria for your choices?
Tim Griffin: Looking back, I might have included Okung on the list and I gave careful consideration to David Washington, who missed my list because he was hurt most of last season. But I think the Oklahoma State line might be the collection of its parts without one or two standouts. I talked to some NFL scouts that I trust and also to others who follow the Big 12 closely. While not infallible, I think my choices were pretty close.
Jason writes: Tim I'd like to know how Travis Schneider of A&M has been looking. He switched from left to right tackle this year and you don't hear much about him, so what are you hearing?
Tim Griffin: I was impressed with Schneider on several plays I saw last week at Texas A&M's open practice -- amazing what a concept that is, isn't it? Schneider will be counted to help a green offensive line develop. He'll be the most important player in the unit because of his experience.
But one tip I have for him about notoriety -- he'll develop more of it with his blocks than his locks. Schneider has one of the most notable hairstyles I've seen this year. He needs to be a more aggressive player on the field this season.
Sean Arnold of Kearney, Neb., writes: Tim I'm surprised that none of the Nebraska kickers made your list of best special teams players in the conference. I understand that not every team could be represented but I thought at least our punter Dan Titchener would make it with his ability to drop the ball inside the 20 yard line. Oh well, still love your stuff. Go Big Red
Tim Griffin: Sean, I agree about Nebraska's total talent on special teams. But I couldn't see putting one of them in my top 10. Titchener is probably about the third best punter in the league, just below the two that I picked.
Guys, thanks for all of the letters and keep them coming. Game day is only five days away. I can't wait.