Don’t look now, but Håvard “Kickalicious” Rugland has given us a true kicking battle.
Right now, the Lions are looking to replace one of the greatest placekickers in NFL history with either David Akers, a six-time All-Pro; or Rugland, a 28-year old Norwegian man they found on YouTube.
Normally, that’s an easy call, but then the guy from Youtube put a football helmet on for the first time in his life and kicked a 49-yard and 50-yard field goal in a preseason game against the New York Jets.
Maybe Akers is still the frontrunner on account of his experience, but Rugland has done everything he was supposed to to prove himself as a legitimate NFL kicker. Now comes the tough part for the Lions: Do you stick with the proven veteran coming off his worst year as a pro, or give the nod to the rookie with a cannon leg?
Based on what we know so far and his first preseason game, these are the pros and cons of Kickalicious’ game. Draw your own conclusions.
Age – Rugland is 10 years younger than Akers, and as a rookie, he should be trending up, whereas Akers may already be in age-related decline.
Kickoffs - You may have noticed that against the Jets, Akers handled field goals in the first half, and Rugland in the second. You may have also noticed that while Rugland also handled kickoff duties in the second half, it was fifth-round draft selection and punter Sam Martin, not Akers, who pulled kickoff duty in the first.
Is that because the Lions wanted to save the wear and tear on Akers, who continues to recover from a groin injury? Or is it a sign that Akers would just be a FG specialist in Detroit? Regardless, Martin was by far the best kickoff man of the night, booting everything to the back of the end zone except for a squib kick at the end of the first half. Maybe this is a moot point then, but it seems, regardless, that Rugland may have an edge in kickoffs.
Works in Game Situations - There should be little doubt as to whether Youtube’s “Kickalicious” can be in-game “Kickalicious.” Yeah, it was preseason, but Rugland nailed a pair of deep field goals, and you can’t use the usual preseason excuse that he was “playing inferior competition.” His competition was a set of NFL goalposts, and he split them in half from long distance twice in front of a stadium of screaming fans. Those goalposts won’t be any different in the regular season.
Versatility? - It doesn’t seem that anybody is concerned about this, but it’s worth mentioning that many of Rugland’s kicks in his now-famous video are actually rugby-style punts. They don’t seem to have much hang time, which is what an NFL team needs out of a punter, but they’re obviously directionally accurate. It doesn’t seem like Rugland is any sort of competition as a potential starting punter, but he could be a useful emergency/situational replacement.
Experience - This is the biggest and most obvious concern about Rugland, whose total football experience at any level now totals part of a training camp and one preseason game. Sure, he’s passed every test so far, but what happens when a moment gets too big for him? Can he kick a game-winner in overtime? In the playoffs? Confidence is a key attribute for kickers, and we don’t really know how much of it Rugland has—or what happens if he loses it.
Age - Yes, this is both a pro and a con. Rugland is 10 years younger than Akers, but that still makes him a 28-year-old rookie. That’s not old by any means (especially for a kicker), but late 20s should be a player’s prime, not their rookie season. Minor gripe, though, since he probably still has at least a solid decade of football in front of him.
Kicking Motion - This is something that popped up in the Lions-Jets game, and his viral video confirms it: Rugland’s kicking motion is… unusual. It’s rather choppy and truncated, typical of someone who didn’t figure out his craft with a coach in his ear. You can see in his two in-game field goals that he plants his kicking leg almost immediately after making contact. Now, that doesn’t seem to bother him in terms of results, and as long as he keeps drilling field goals, nobody will complain. However, keeping that kicking leg extended a bit is a great way to draw penalties, and Rugland’s motion is not exactly conducive to that.
Coachability - Because his kicking motion is non-standard, coaching the guy will be more challenging than it will with your average kicker. As a special teams coach, do you risk tinkering with his motion to try to improve it, or let him keep going with what he knows? Maybe this isn’t a huge problem (I’m not a kicking specialist or a special teams coach), but it’s worth consideration.
Tackling - If 2012 is any indication, Rugland might have to handle tackling duties if he also handles kickoffs. Since he’s never played football, he’s probably not accustomed to being hit. If the time comes to make a tackle, can we look forward to this?