By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
When his 37-yard field-goal attempt missed Sunday afternoon, Nick Novak knew to expect the worst this week. The young Washington Redskins kicker, who has struggled with accuracy on field goals and distance on kickoffs, figured he'd have competition for his job, and it came yesterday with the arrival of Shaun Suisham at Redskins Park.
Suisham, 24, was signed to the practice squad after visiting with team officials and will be in uniform for practice today along with Novak, 25. The Redskins could opt to have Suisham handle only kickoffs and play both kickers, or they could release one this week. The team did not make a waiver claim for Mike Vanderjagt, according to team sources, and do not intend to pursue the kicker who was cut Monday by the Dallas Cowboys.
Novak, who went to high school in Charlottesville and starred at Maryland, made a game-winning kick against Dallas on Nov. 5 after missing an earlier attempt to win that game. He kicked a game-winning field goal for the Redskins in 2005 as well, but has been erratic this season. He has connected on just 5 of 10 kicks and is 3 for 6 from 40 yards or beyond.
"Obviously, I brought this on myself," Novak said. "Now I have to go out and take care of business."
The Redskins' kicking situation has been in flux during much of their recent history, with veteran John Hall injured each of the last three seasons and put on injured reserve last month, ending his season. Coach Joe Gibbs said he hopes Novak can be the long-term answer, but his recent results have not been good enough.
"The things we like about him is he hits the ball up high," Gibbs said, "and . . . whenever we've had him work out here he's been consistent in what he's done. But it's a fact -- you make this many or you miss this many."
Novak and Suisham know each other from tryouts around the league. Suisham spent part of the past two seasons with the Cowboys and part of this season with San Francisco, and has made 4 of 6 field goal attempts in his NFL career. Like Novak, he has yet to establish himself in the league. The Redskins made room for Suisham on the roster by releasing wide receiver Ryan Hoag from the practice squad.
Suisham is considered strong on kickoffs, an area in which Novak has been trying to improve. Novak does well to angle the ball to certain areas of the field, as special teams coach Danny Smith wants, but is not getting the ball close enough to the goal line. On Sunday, several kicks were caught outside the 10, allowing Carolina the chance to get good field position.
"I have to kick off better, and I will kick off better," Novak said.
At halftime Sunday, Novak received some unsolicited feedback from Carolina kicker John Kasay after missing from 37 yards in the first half, and he is trying to take it to heart. Kasay told Novak he has the makings of a good NFL kicker but needs to stay positive. From a physical standpoint, Novak knows what he needs to do.
On his miss Sunday, he lifted his head before his follow-through, which resulted in his kicking toe lifting and causing the ball to pull wide. It's similar to when a golfer fails to keep his head down on his follow-through, and Novak realized the mistake as soon as he made it. He has spent most of the last two days looking at film of his kicks, dissecting them with Smith, and speaking with running backs coach Earnest Byner as well.
Byner is a strong proponent of visualization and has worked with Novak on the way in which he reviews game film. Byner has running backs study their technique in slow motion and, when observing a flaw, has them envision the proper changes.
"More than anything else, I told Nick that success or failure doesn't determine your confidence in what you're trying to do," Byner said. "Whether it's the next kick or the next rep or whatever it is, what determines that is how you approach it and how you learn from it and how you grow from each experience. I see how hard he works and how dedicated he is, and I think he's getting close to where he wants to be."
It's difficult for any kicker in Novak's situation not to think about the big picture, though. Each kick could be his last, and the person to take his job might already be on the roster.
"You can't put that much pressure on yourself when you go into each kick," Novak said "But I know that every kick is important and being a young kicker and having a great opportunity like this, you have to take advantage of it because it doesn't come around too often. Right now, I know I am capable of it, and I've done it and won games before. But I'm going through some ups and downs and I need to find that consistent level. That's what I'm shooting for for the rest of the season."