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Monday, September 16, 2013
What does a bad start mean for a kicker?

By Tania Ganguli

This is essentially Texans' kicker Randy Bullock's rookie year as he spent his true rookie year on injured reserve. And it hasn't started well.

Bullock has missed four of his five field goal attempts in the first two games. They've all been longer than 40 yards and he's gone 0-for-3 on attempts longer than 50 yards. Those aren't easy field goals to make, but when you draft a kicker, you expect him to make difficult field goals. Bullock was a fifth-round pick, the highest drafted kicker in a top-heavy kicker draft class last season.

Two of the other kickers in Bullock's draft class had excellent starts. Greg Zuerlein started 13-for-13 including a 60-yarder, a 56-yarder and a 53-yarder for the Minnesota Vikings last year. He was a sixth-round pick last year and dropped off a bit after that, finishing the season making 74.2 percent of his tries. Minnesota had consistent success with kicker Blair Walsh, who was also a a sixth-round pick last year. Walsh didn't miss until week four, making 55, 51 and 52-yarders before that. He finished the season having made 92 percent of his field goal attempts. John Potter, a seventh-round pick by Buffalo last year, spent six games with the Bills and was used as a kickoff specialist.

Kicking is mental and there are times when early struggles never reverse. There are other times when they do. Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski only made one of his four 50-plus yard attempts his rookie year. Overall in his 14-year career Janikowski has made 56 percent of his field goals longer than 50 yards. In fact, Janikowski started his NFL career missing three of his first four field goal attempts.

That mental shift is what punter Shane Lechler, who has favorably compared Bullock's accuracy to Janikowski's, is trying to instill in Bullock.

"A very, very tough thing to do, is to turn the page," Lechler said. "I mean I know. I deal with it. I don’t know of a professional athlete that’s not hard on himself, that doesn’t deal with it. It’s kind of like a book, man. Turn the page. Can’t read the same one. Don’t let that one mess up your next kick. And I have all the confidence in the world with him. I hold with him. He kicks all the time in practice. He’s money all the time. And he just had a rough go. And that’s part of this game. That’s part of the situation. That’s part of being a little bit young, and that’s part of it."

Bullock has the leg strength and he has been accurate in the past. The question will be how long the Texans can wait for that mental turnaround. They need reliability at the position. They might not have needed overtime yesterday if they had it.