Thursday, July 26, 2007

Training Camp Positional Preview: Specialists

The final segment of the training camp positional previews looks at the specialists. Tomorrow, I'll go back through the previews and compile my predicted depth charts to see what my predicted 53-man roster will look like (trimming or adding players as necessary).

What to expect: Olindo Mare had a tough season last year, missing 10 field goals, and it looked like his accuracy had been steadily diminishing for some time. Newcomer Jay Feely, on the other hand, is coming off his most accurate season as a pro in which he made 85.2% of his field goals. In the punting game, Miami might have to endure some growing pains from its rookie punter. One of the most important things for this new group of specialists will be to form a cohesive unit on field goals since the long-snapper, holder, and kicker will all be new to each other.

Here's a closer look at the individual specialists currently on the roster and what can be expected of them this coming season:

Jay Feely
As I said above, Feely is coming off of his most accurate season as a pro. Each year from 2004-2006, Feely managed to increase his field goal percentage. While he may not have the same booming leg as Mare, his recent body of work has been more consistent in its accuracy. With the lack of top-end power also comes a lack of touchbacks, something that Mare excelled at.
While the team might be giving up the best touchback kicker in the league, Feely's more consistent accuracy should more than make up for that. Having the offensive drives end more frequently in some kind of points is more important than having the opponent start on the 20-yard line. The coverage unit is just going to have to stay sharp. I think the most important change at the kicker position is one of confidence. Mare's confidence over the past few seasons just seemed shot. And at a position that is so solitary and mental, you can't stick with a guy who is down. Feely should fix that problem (as long as the infield dirt doesn't break him down like it seemed to do to Mare).

Matt Prater
Just as there is a "camp arm," there's also a "camp leg" - a second kicker at training camp who can take some of the extra snaps so that Feely's leg doesn't fall off. Prater is that camp leg. He went to camp with the Lions last season as an undrafted college free agent. During the preseason he was 4/4 in FGs with a long of 48 and 2/2 in XPs.

Brandon Fields
Fields has been getting all of the snaps during the most recent training camp sessions, so it's safe to say he'll be the team's punter.
He is huge for a punter (6'5", 236 lbs.) and he can certainly boom the ball with his strong leg. He also has experience kicking off, should the need ever arise. The biggest concern is his inconsistency. He has trouble angling punts out of bounds and he will probably shank one every now and then. Another big problem is that he holds onto the ball too long and is a big risk to have his punt blocked. His immensely powerful leg is a treat, but he will have to get better at directional kicks, as well as becoming more consistent. It will probably take a while to see significant changes take place in his game, so he might struggle this season. Luckily, the problems he has can be corrected with some good coaching. Down the line, I think he'll make a solid if unspectacular punter.

Ryan Flinn
Flinn will be the reserve punter during camps, but his chance of making the roster is slim-to-none. He actually has some NFL experience, having punted 6 times in 2005 while with the Packers, but he only managed a 36.3 yard average.

John Denney
Denney is the team's long-snapper. You can judge this position by how often you hear the player's name throughout the season. Since they are only called out when they mess up, the less you hear the guy's name, the better he's playing. By that measurement, Denney's been pretty good and I can't remember any snap that he's totally botched. That consistent performance will be important this season, as he will have to adjust to a new holder. He's also been very good on the punt coverage unit, always getting downfield to be in position to make a tackle.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
K - Jay Feely
P - Brandon Fields
LS - John Denney

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