PHILADELPHIA - Once a week, while the rest of the Eagles are practicing at the NovaCare Complex, the team's long snapper, holder and place-kicker venture across Pattison Avenue to work out at Lincoln Financial Field.
Place-kicker Alex Henery was accompanied by some different teammates for this week's session in preparation for tonight's game against the New York Giants.
Kyle Nelson, who was just signed to the practice squad on Tuesday, served as the long snapper. He replaced veteran Jon Dorenbos, who was getting treatment for a high ankle sprain. Mat McBriar served as the holder and also booted a few punts. He is taking over both roles for Chas Henry, who was released on Tuesday.
"Will making all these changes be a handicap? Yes," Eagles special teams coordinator Bobby April said. "But that's the way the NFL works. You have to be able to adjust and improvise. No matter who's snapping the ball and who's holding it, the kicker should get that football through the uprights."
It helps if the long snapper, holder and kicker have chemistry.
Former Eagles place-kicker David Akers, who holds the franchise's career records for field goals (294) and extra points (441) made, attributed much of his success during his 12-year stint in Philadelphia to long snappers Mike Bartrum and Dorenbos, as well as holders Koy Detmer, Dirk Johnson and Sav Rocca. Akers never had to change snappers or holders during a season.
Henery, a fourth-round draft pick last season out of Nebraska, set the team single-season record for field-goal percentage (88.9) by making 24-of-27 field goals as a rookie. Dorenbos and Henry were there for every kick.
"We were able to develop a rhythm," Henery said. "Ideally, you want to get the kick off in under 1.3 seconds. Around 1.25 seconds is considered very good. We had it down to 1.15."
Dorenbos' speed and accuracy helps a great deal.
Since entering the NFL with Buffalo in 2003, the 2009 Pro Bowler has worked hard to perfect his craft. Dorenbos is now able to snap the ball in such a manner that the football's laces are already pointing toward the goal posts when the holder catches the ball and places it on the ground.
"When I first started long snapping, I stunk at it," Dorenbos said. "But I just kept working at it. There was something about the repetition and solitude of long snapping that appealed to me. It's the same reason I took up magic (he's a professional magician) and learned to play the guitar. The more you do something over and over again, the better you get."
When Dorenbos suffered a sprained ankle in last week's loss to Arizona, the Eagles signed Nelson to the practice squad. April said he hopes Dorenbos will be able to play against the Giants, but Nelson took all the practice reps in case the Eagles need to promote him to the active roster.
Like most long snappers, Nelson has had to pay his dues. He spent part of the 2011 season on Kansas City's practice squad and went to training camp with San Francisco this season. After getting released, he returned to Phoenix, Ariz, where he worked out with long-snapping guru Ben Bernard while waiting for another opportunity.
"Snapping for punts is obviously different than snapping for extra points and field goals," said Nelson, who played tight end and long snapper for New Mexico State. "But they're both tough in their own way. When it comes to field goals and extra points, I can usually get it to the holder with the laces between 10 and 12 o'clock so he doesn't have to spin the ball much, if at all."
The holder has the tougher job. Not only does he have to catch the snaps, he has to place the ball on the ground while making sure the laces are pointing out and also provide the proper tilt and lean for the kicker.
Henry was able to develop a quick rapport with Henery during training camp last season and knew precisely how the place-kicker liked the ball angled. McBriar, a native of Australia, shared holding duties with Henry throughout camp and the preseason this summer, so he does have some familiarity with Henery once he re-signed with the Eagles on Tuesday.
"Alex is very easy to please," McBriar said. "Nothing bothers him. Normally, I have to talk the kicker back from the cliff if something goes wrong or isn't exactly right, but not Alex. He just makes the next kick. Nothing fazes him."
Henery's routine normally doesn't change. Every field goal and extra point involves the same sequence: a quick step with his left foot, another one with his right, then a plant and the kick.
But unlike most place-kickers, who only focus on the holder, Henery also watches the flight of the ball from the long snapper. If the ball comes in too high or too low, he makes a split-second adjustment before swinging his right leg.
"It takes a little while to find a rhythm and if we have two new guys out there with me it will be tougher," Henery said. "But that's the nature of this business. Kicking a football is the only thing I do, so I should be able to do it well every time. I should be able to do my job, no matter who is out there with me."
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