The Falcons special teams was a major strength throughout most of last season. Kicker Matt Bryant was a pleasant surprise with his clutch shots throughout theyear, hitting three game-winners and going a perfect 13 of 13 at home for the Falcons. Return specialist Eric Weems went to the Pro Bowl, thanks in large part to a pair of touchdowns each on a punt and kickoff, ranking in the Top 5 in both categories in average yards per return (the only player in the league to accomplish that), and his team-leading 16 stops on special teams.
The one player that was not so great was punter Michael Koenen, who had his struggles early in the season. He managed to finish the year strong, but it was probably enough inconsistency to cause the Falcons to pass on re-signing him long-term.
That seems to be the impetus to why the Falcons used a sixth round pick on Matt Bosher in last month’s draft. Bosher both kicked and punted at the University of Miami, but was a better punter there. He also kicked off, something he did with some efficiency during his senior season. That latter ability is likely what attracted the Falcons to him and caused them to draft him over a more highly-rated punter in Florida’s Chas Henry. Henry, although had a big leg, he was much less proven as a kickoff specialist.
Both Koenen and Bryant are going to be free agents, and won’t be affected by the labor issues since both have more than six years of experience. Based off their 2010 play, it makes sense that the team is more willing to keep Bryant despite him turning 36 next week and Koenen still being a very spry 28.
But if Bosher takes over as the team’s punter and kickoff specialist, how good can he be right off the bat?
Questions over whether Bosher can help them win the field position battle are key. Koenen was one of the best kickoff guys in the league, but even if there is drop-off (which is likely) with Bosher, the new kickoff rules should help offset that. The key issue will be on punts, whether Bosher can force those fair catches and pin teams deep as readily as Koenen did. Koenen ranked 6th in the league in percentage of punts placed inside the 20, and 5th in the league in punts placed inside the 10-yard line. He was also the third best punter in the league in forcing fair catches. So while Koenen underachieved throughout much of last year, on the whole he still had a very solid year as far as directional kicking.
Kicking indoors should help Bosher transition to the league. Punters tend to do so more easily and quickly than kickers do. Two years ago, both Pat McAfee and Thomas Morstead entered the league with little issue as indoor punters, and they are also the only two punters in the league that also pull double duty as full-time punter and kickoff specialist for their respective teams. Both are the templte
The biggest negatives about Bosher are his inconsistencies, the same troubles that plagued Koenen in recent years. Consistency is something that is tough to expect out of a young punter, who needs time to hone his craft.
But Bosher should be helped by an easy slate of games. That conclusion is made from the fact that 12 of the games the Falcons play this year will be indoors. The only two places where he’ll likely have to worry about strong winds are two early road games vs. Chicago and Seattle. And who knows if the lockout lingers, those games may be wiped off the books. So it may work out that Bosher has a fairly easy transition. Questions about his ability to kick in conditions are unknown, since he’s kicked his entire life in the sunny state of Florida.
Bosher will be pushed by journeyman Ken Parrish, who has been around the block. Last year, he played with the Florida Tuskers in the UFL (the same team that Matt Bryant played for in 2009). He just put up mediocre numbers. He has spent time with the Eagles each of the past two summers, but could not quite make the roster.
He isn’t likely to win the battle, but it should be noted that the last few times that the Falcons have had open competitions for one of their specialist spots in camp, the underdog has wound up winning. It happened first when Jay Feely beat out Jake Arians in 2001, then Koenen upset Toby Gowin in 2005. You could even count Matt Prater’s sneaking in like a thief in the night to take the job from Billy Cundiff in 2007. That didn’t quite work out for the team, but that history should at least mean that nobody should count out Parrish quite yet. Throw in the apparent lack of OTAs caused by the labor crisis, and who wins the job may be dependent on which guy hits the ground running whenever camps and teams are eventually allowed to convene. Given Parrish has been around the block, he may have the advantage there. But it’s no doubt that it’s Bosher’s job to lose.
Truthfully, I think it would be very surprising if Bosher is actually an improvement over Koenen as a rookie. Koenen had his bad spots, but still over the long haul was mostly good. But basically Bosher has to do is come in and be decent, and the Falcons should be okay. Punt it high and far, and try to not to shank it too often. The way the schedule plays out should help him, and I think the Falcons are going to be okay on special teams this year.