Philadelphia punter Mike Michel made his debut against the redskins on Sunday by dropping one snap, getting off a nine-yard kick and whiffing entirely on another. Redskin punter Mike Bragg admitted yesterday, "I guess I do feel a little sorry for the guy.
"I don't feel that bad because they did win. But you do have to feel something for him. What happened to Michel is every punter's nightmare. You hate to even think about those kind of things."
Washington fans have not had to concern themselves with the football follies in the kicking game since George Allen arrived in 1971 and began emphasizing the importance of the special teams. Under Jack pardee, little has changed.
Bragg has a streak of 147 games and 310 kicks going back to 1974 without a blocked punt. The last time he dropped a snap was in a 1970 game against the Eagles. He picked up the bouncing ball that day and salvaged a first down with a 40-yard run. He has never whiffed.
He is the leading net punter (punting average minus punt return average) in the National Football League, with a 36.9 average, with nine kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
Because Bragg does his job so well, there almost has been a tendency to take his special skills and prowess for granted. And yet, there are all sorts of opportunities for Bragg to mess up. Consider the essential elements of a successful punt.
The snap: "It should take about eight/tenths of a second," Bragg says, "and with Ted Fritsch snapping the ball to me, it always does. He's the best. I like the ball anywhere between my knees and my shoulders - the strike zone, really, and I don't like to have to move from side to side. I rarely have to. Ted aims at my right hip, and i can tell you it's really mentally relaxing to know that part of the exchange is always going to be good."
The catch: "Some people take that for granted," says Bragg, a former baseball catcher in high school and college. "But you have to have pretty good hands. You have to lock the ball in, and at this point, I'm trying to block eveything out of my mind. I try to watch the ball spinning and I try to look at the grain of the ball. Once I have it my hand lined up with the laces in the groove of the seam."
The drop to the foot: "This is probably the most important part in the whole process" Bragg says. "If you don't have a good drop you won't have a good kick. If it's a windy day or bad weather, you almost have to lay the ball on your foot. I have a little advantage because I'm shorter and my style is more compact. Actually, the ball doesn't drop much because I'm leaning in and foot is coming up. But you better drop it right, Michel can tell you that."
The kick: "I aim to kick the ball right beneath the air hole - that's the middle of the ball. You want to hit the ball there right where your shoe laces are, the instep. I always kick it there. And the longer that ball can ride there, the more you can compress it and the farther it will go. It's the same principle as hitting a golf ball, a tennis ball or a baseball. You have to got solid contact on the ball with the best part of what you're using to hit it. In this case, it's the foot."
The entire process, from center snap to actual kick, should take no longer than 2.2 seconds, and even then there is no garauntee that the ball will not be blocked. "There are times you see a rush coming and you know you have to speed up," said Bragg, who can get a kick off in 1.9 seconds if he has to.
This season, Bragg has another responsibility. If he sees the opposition with 10 men at the line of scrimmage and also notices that they have not covered one of his two outside men going downfield to get the punter, Bragg automatically is supposed to throw a pass to the open man.
That has happened twice this season. The first time at home against Philadelphia, Tony Green was wide open but Bragg forgot to look. Two weeks ago in Detroit, Donnie Harris, was open but failed to look back.
"When I get back there to punt, my concentration is just like a baseball player's in the batting, box," Bragg said. "That's what happened in Philadelphia. I was concentrating so much I forgot to look for, and before the year is over I gaurantee you we'll complete a pass on it."
Bragg has no guarantee on how much longer his powerful leg last. He is 32 and he knows "sooner or later it's gonna" go. I can't do things now I did as a rookie, but as long as I take care of myself, I'll be around a few more years."
Last summer, Bragg wondered if he would be around this season. Free agent George Roberts had an impressive training camp, and bragg heard all manner of rumors that he was going to be traded.
That never happened, The Redskins let Roberts go and eventually he was signed by Miami and now is among the AFC's leading punters.
"What happened to George tells you a lot about how teams treat their kickers," Bragg said. "He had tryouts with Minnesota and New England before Miami signed him, and you have to wonder how those other teams could possibly let him go.
The worst thing about placekickers and punters is that teams never give them a chance to feel comfortable. You don't have to learn a system on offense or defense, you just have to kick the ball. But there is tremendous mental pressure. It's something I've never really had to worry about here the last few years. I guess I'm lucky."
Redskin runningback Mike Thomas again missed practice yesterday and Coach Jack pardee said his status remained doubtful against the Giants. "I'm not ruling him out," Pardee said, "but it doesn't look too encouraging. If a person's hurt, then he's hurt. If a guy says he's hurt you can't say he's not. We just have to work with the players we've got." . . . Terry Anderson caught a long touchdown pass, then slipped on a piece of asphalt near the Redskin Park office building and smacked hard into a wall. He was not injured. Said Pete Wyspcki "I've never seen that wall miss a tackle."