What Mark Moseley had hoped would become the best season in his 10 years of kicking in the National Football League instead has turned into perhaps the most frustrating.
A year after working his way out of a puzzling slump, Moseley is battling a new problem. His heavily muscled right leg has been aching since the first day of training camp, a series of injuries reducing his range and altering drastically his thinking about future conditioning programs.
The Redskins have been forced to wonder if he will have a chronic problem with the leg, which raises questions about his future with the team.
For now, both Moseley and the Redskins feel that, once he heals, he again will be one of the league's best kickers. But even Moseley isn't sure his leg will mend any time this season. It needs rest; the Redskins need him to kick every seven days. And every time he kicks, he seems to aggravate the injuries.
Sandro Vitiello, a free agent cut in training camp, was given a tryout last week. General Manager Bobby Beathard said Vitiello had been promised a midseason workout to check on his progress, but the timing was no coincidence. However, sources said, Vitiello was unimpressive.
"I'm really not that worried about Mark," said Wayne Sevier, special teams coach. "He's been able to kick every week and I think he will continue to. We just have limited his practice kicking to save him.
"At the last game, Mike Connell had a square-toed shoe and was ready to kick if Mark couldn't, just as a precaution. We also brought Mark's range (on field goals) in for that game and we asked him to take a two-step kickoff approach.
"The last game was the first time we've restricted his range a bit. Instead of letting him try from the 35-yard line, we cut it to 30. The one he did try (from 31 yards) was the absolute longest he was going to try.
"Anything much longer than the cutoff is pretty far out. We wouldn't want to bring him in much more, but we can live with it. His leg strength is still good and he isn't missing by much, so that's encouraging."
Moseley said his leg "feels better this week than it did last week, but I really can't tell until I try it. And I won't try it until Sunday. There is no reason to kick during the week; all that does is risk aggravating the injuries.
"Even though I'm sure I can keep doing the job, this isn't the way I like going about kicking. My leg isn't anywhere near 100 percent and I can't work hard during the week like I want to. I've always prided myself on being totally prepared and being very strong . . . That's not possible right now."
The present muscle pull is, Moseley said, "an inch from where I pulled a groin muscle earlier in the season. I hurt it this last time last Thursday in practice. By Sunday, I didn't know if I could kick or not. It felt that bad."
To protect him, the Redskins devised a contraption to restrict his leg's backswing, the movement that leads to the pulled muscles. They attached a harness on the leg to a rubber inner tube around his waist, which made it difficult for him to walk, much less kick.
"But I still hit three from 50 yards in practice before the game," Moseley said. "And the 48-yarder I missed in the game was just because I didn't hit the ball right. Even at half-speed, my range is about the same as most healthy kickers'."
He always has been among the most accurate kickers from long range in the league. From 40 to 49 yards during his career, he has made good on 58 of 107 attempts, including 24 of 39 the last three years.
Over the last four years, he has made good on 10 of 26 tries from beyond 49 yards, an outstanding percentage. But this season, with the injuries, his longest attempt has been from only 50 yards. And he has failed on his last five kicks from outside 39 yards and is just one of six from beyond that distance through nine games. But thanks to his usual short-range accuracy, he is a respectable eight of 15 for the season.
"I wanted to show the new staff that I could kick from anywhere," Moseley said. "Even with my history, you still need to convince them they can trust you. That's what has been agonizing about all this. I haven't had the opportunity to do my job the way I can so they don't hesitate to send me in, no matter what."
Moseley said he spent the past offseason working harder than before to make sure last year's poor start wouldn't happen again, "and to make sure this would be my best season yet." But he pulled a muscle on the outside of his leg the first day of training camp and has not been healthy since. He slightly pulled the groin muscle in the second game, against the Giants, and severely pulled it later against Philadelphia.
"I'm going to sit down with people here and work out a new offseason program," Moseley said. "I have to change my routine so I don't have the same difficulties next year. Now that I'm getting older, I probably will have to do less free weight training and go more with Nautilus equipment, things like that."
Coach Joe Gibbs said Sunday's game against Detroit "is a critical one" for the Redskins. "I have tremendous concern about it, because it's hard to play five or six weeks in a row like we have with intensity. The worst thing in the world for us now would be to take a step back" . . . Tackle Joe Jacoby, who hurt his lower right arm in practice Wednesday, did not work out yesterday. Afterward, as a precaution, he was sent to have X rays . . . Guard Melvin Jones, back from a neck injury, participated in the full workout and should be able to play Sunday.