Saturday, August 10, 2013
Havard Rugland isn't just 'Kickalicious'
By Kevin Seifert
Of all the good things we saw Friday night from the Detroit Lions' revamped special teams, Havard Rugland's performance was probably the least relevant. It's nice that he converted two long field goals in the second half of a 26-17 victory over the New York Jets, but let's face it. Chances are remote that the Lions will choose a place-kicker who is entirely new to the game over veteran David Akers, especially in this win-or-else season.
Havard Rugland has had a strong training camp and performed well in Detroit's preseason opener.
Still, it will be difficult to forget the scene after Rugland's first field goal, a 49-yard curveball in the third quarter. Rugland celebrated as if the kick had won the Lions the game, prompting his teammates to do the same. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch lifted him on the sideline, and eventually Akers had to remind Rugland that he still needed to kick off.
"It's refreshing to see how much fun he's having," quarterback Matthew Stafford told reporters. "The guy is having a blast here and he's doing a great job. He's kicking the ball great. Obviously, he had two long field goals tonight and got to kick off. Just watching him out there is refreshing for us. … It's an awesome story and the guy is a pretty darn good kicker."
If nothing else, we've learned that "Kickalicious" is not a gimmick. He might have drawn the Lions' attention through a now-viral YouTube video of trick kicks, but Friday night capped a camp performance that has suggested increasing legitimacy each day. In addition to hitting from 49 and 50 yards, Rugland also had two high kickoffs that allowed the Lions' coverage team to stop the Jets' returners short of the 25-yard line.
Again, it's difficult to imagine the Lions tapping Rugland as their kicker this season, assuming Akers remains healthy and kicks the way he did Friday night. (He converted from 47 and 35 yards, and rookie punter Sam Martin appeared more than prepared to handle kickoffs with three touchbacks.) But a few more similar performances could at least put Rugland in the conversation for a future in the game, which is much more than anyone thought possible just a month ago.
Asked about a genuine competition for the place-kicking job, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the obvious: "Everybody on our team is competing for a spot. We don't have anybody that's out here just buying time."
The really interesting question, which might never arise, is what the Lions would do if Akers is either injured or suddenly ineffective. Has Rugland emerged as an acceptable backup plan, just a few months after he put on a football helmet for the first time? What happens when it stops being just fun and game-deciding pressure arises? That would be the next step in this already-surprising story.