Gary Zauner, an NFL special teams coordinator for 13 seasons with three teams, now works with individual kickers and runs development camps and combines for kickers.
“The kids who are the better soccer players, they’re coming to football to kick,” Zauner said. “In high school, they’re getting instruction. They get to college and they get instruction. In the old days, nobody was really working with guys at a higher level. When you get better instruction earlier, it pays dividends down the line.”
Zauner said the large number of kids playing soccer in the U.S. has made the quality of kicking in football better.
“Almost every guy that comes to me, I ask, ‘What’s your background?’ Almost all of them say, ‘I played soccer,’ ” Zauner said. “Then they gave up soccer after high school, maybe, to go to football full-time.
“A good swing coach in golf should help your game by three or four strokes,” he added. “I think a good kicking coach should do the same thing.”
Lindell, who has made 9 of 10 field goal attempts for the Bills this season, said kickers have become better athletes all around.
“They’re guys who could have played other sports well,” he said, “and they just found they could kick well and went to camps and all that. It’s not just the old stereotype of the guy who could have gone to Europe and played soccer.”
Lindell said fields also have become better and the entire field goal operation, beginning with the snap, has become more precise and dependable over the years.
What’s less clear is why field goal accuracy has improved from just last season to this season. Besides the relatively mild weather so far this season, it’s also possible that some kickers might be benefiting from the new kickoff rule, a safety measure that moved the ball five yards closer to the opposite end zone for kickoffs.
With most kickers able to reach the end zone, the new rule may allow them to focus more on field goal accuracy. Teams also may be less tempted keep a kicker with a big leg on kickoffs instead of an accurate place kicker.
Or maybe it’s all just a statistical blip, a one-year upswing, and accuracy will dip a few percentage points to its usual level next season.
McKay said it has been more than a decade since the sport’s rule-makers discussed any possible measures to counteract the increasing accuracy of kickers, such as narrowing the goal posts. He said he doesn’t expect any such provisions to be seriously considered this offseason, even if the current field goal percentage stays at record levels.
In the meantime, out-of-work kickers seeking to get back into the league, such as veteran Jeff Reed, may have to wait for a while.
“Besides Janikowski getting hurt,” Zauner said he told Reed, “nobody is really looking for a kicker. Nobody is having a bad year or missing kicks for anybody to be looking for a kicker.”