Training Camp Preview: Special Teams
The Falcons hope that the addition of Jason Elam will bring some continuity and consistency to the kicker position.
Elam isn’t a young man, but the team hopes that he has at least two more good years left in his leg. Elam should be capable when it comes to kicking indoors. The only real question is his range. While kicking indoors is ideal, it’s not the same as kicking outside in the thin air of Denver. While Morten Andersen only had an effective range up to 43 or 44 yards, Elam’s range may not be much better with modest estimates at around 46 or 47. While it’s an improvement, it still leaves the team without a capable guy of making 50-yarders.
In the past, the team has called on Michael Koenen to perform those duties. And it’s not out of the question that Koenen could continue in that role. But Koenen has made only 30% of his NFL field goal attempts, when the average NFL kicker can make 50% of his 50+ yard attempts. So relying on Koenen may be a measure in futility.
How much range Elam has will be a key question this summer. But there is little question about Michael Koenen’s leg strength. While his accuracy is poor on field goals, it’s top notch on punting placement. And Koenen still hasn’t reached his peak yet. The only real question surrounding Koenen is when the team is goign to start working on a contract extension: this summer or after the season?
Mike Schneck was solid as a long snapper last year, and there’s no reason to not expect more of the same.
The return gigs remain open. Jerious Norwood and Adam Jennings are the incumbents on kickoffs and punts, respectively. Jennings impressed last summer, but failed to live up to expectations during the regular season. He’ll need to put together another solid performance this summer to keep his job. Norwood is a capable returner, but the team may want to limit his reps there due to his potential for a more expansive role on offense. Unfortunately for Norwood, his workload on offense is less determined by his skill but rather by his reps on special teams.
Pushing for time on kickoffs will be Jennings, Thomas Brown, Jamar Brittingham, and Chandler Williams. In a perfect world, Jennings could handle both duties ably, but that’s a question mark as of now. Brown probably has the next best odds since his uphill battle for a regular roster spot is less steep.
Brittingham and Eric Weems are the most experienced when it come to punt returns. Either way this will be a completely open competition. Norwood and Jennings will maintain their jobs only if no one else steps up.