By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Former Washington Redskins and University of Maryland place kicker Nick Novak won a tryout against three other candidates to replace the injured John Hall yesterday. The team also brought in 44-year-old punter Sean Landeta for a surprise workout, apparently to challenge Derrick Frost, as the Redskins appeared to reassess both areas of their kicking game.
Novak signed a three-year contract two days after Hall, 32, aggravated his groin and right quadriceps during Sunday's 19-3 loss to the New York Giants. Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said Hall's condition was severe enough that the team needed to act quickly. Immediately following the game, the Redskins' front office began the search to replace Hall.
The team assembled several potential replacements for Hall at Redskins Park, including former Redskin Jose Cortez, veteran Todd Peterson and Tyler Jones, who was cut by Washington during training camp. Sources said Monday the team would be working out former Redskins place kicker Ola Kimrin, but Kimrin was not at Redskins Park yesterday.
Another source said Monday that Novak would be working out against four kickers, but did not anticipate that one of the kickers the Redskins brought in would be Landeta, a punter. "Everybody was surprised by that one," a source said yesterday.
After the workouts, candidates were kept away from reporters and the team had no comment on the kickers' tryout or any details of Landeta's workout. But Novak said he had won the job.
"I'm the guy," he said after the 90-minute workout. "I just have to pass the physical."
The Redskins placed Hall on injured reserve.
"It's good to see him get an opportunity," said Novak's agent, Rich DeLuca. "He's been cut from two NFL teams and the reason had never been because he wasn't good enough. He wasn't going to replace [the Arizona Cardinals'] Neil Rackers, who's a Pro Bowler, and he was replacing an injured kicker in John Hall last year."
Hall, suffering from a strained groin and leg, left the team's facility at 11 a.m. and declined to comment. This season, he converted 9 of 11 field goal attempts, but the two he missed were important ones. The first, a 48-yard attempt against Minnesota in the season opener, would have sent the game into overtime. The second, a 42-yarder Sunday against the Giants, stalled the Redskins' momentum as they tried to come back from what was then a 16-3 deficit.
Novak's return represents a new beginning in the kicking game as well as something of a departure from tradition for Gibbs. Novak, 25, signed with the team last year when Hall suffered a leg injury and kicked the 39-yard field goal in overtime that beat Seattle on Oct. 2 at FedEx Field. According to sources, Novak enjoyed wide support to remain with the team last year, but Gibbs remained loyal to Hall. Gibbs's loyalty to Hall, sources said yesterday, was Hall's greatest asset.
Gibbs also seemed to prefer veteran kickers. According to sources, Jones, 24, outperformed Hall during training camp on kickoffs and field goals, but once preseason games began he did not have the opportunity to prove himself because of the Redskins' offensive struggles. Even as sources said it was clear that Hall was not healthy in the weeks leading up to the opener, Gibbs was unwilling to go with a young kicker. At times it had been suggested to Gibbs that the team retain Jones for kickoffs and as an insurance policy against an injury to Hall. Gibbs declined, unwilling to use an important roster spot on a kicker. During the preseason, sources said, Hall constantly required ice for his surgically reattached groin muscle.
Meanwhile, the Redskins appear to be reassessing Frost. Landeta, a 21-year veteran who won Super Bowls with the New York Giants in 1986 and 1990, kicked last season for Philadelphia. His last game was Jan. 1 with the Eagles against the Redskins. He punted six times for a 44-yard average.
Frost, meanwhile, has endured an erratic turn with the Redskins. In training camp, punters David Lonie -- and for one day, Eddie Johnson -- had been brought in to compete with Frost. But as the pressure to perform increased, Frost played his best and appeared to save his job. Following the Redskins' 19-16 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 11, Gibbs clearly stated that Frost needed to improve. In the following two games against Dallas and Houston, Frost averaged 51.6 and 56 yards per punt, respectively.
Against Jacksonville on Oct. 1, Frost averaged just 30.8 yards per punt but positioned his kicks well, leaving three punts inside the 20-yard line. On Sunday against the Giants, Frost punted five times for a 41.6 average.
Frost is 20th in the league in gross punting average.