Everywhere Steve Hauschka has gone so far in this short NFL career, he has had to replace or has been around an NFL kicker who has been kicking clutch field goals for years.
Last year’s starting Ravens kicker for the first two months of the season had trouble replacing a hero here in Baltimore in Matt Stover, as the former NC State kicker struggled, kicking 69& of his attempts, making only 9 out of 13 attempts from last year, including a big miss in the Ravens October 18th loss to the Vikings that cost the game for Baltimore.
Hauschka beat 2008 Lou Groza Award winner Graham Gano for the starting job for the Ravens last camp after the Ravens decided not to resign Stover, who wanted a guaranteed contract going into training camp.
Hauschka said it wasn’t easy to fit into someone shoes like Stover.
“It’s not easy at the beginning, especially following up a guy like Matt Stover, whose had a real great career there in Baltimore,” Hauschka told Thyrl Nelson on Thursday. “It wasn’t easy as a young guy. I did my best and I wish things worked a different way, but I don’t have any regrets.”
Hauschka was released by the Ravens a month after his fourth miss of the year. He later tried on with the Falcons, who signed him to a contract after trying to find a replacement for a struggling Jason Elam, and he competed with Matt Bryant the rest of the season, not seeing any attempts to prove himself or right his confidence.
Hauschka realizes and understands why his time in Baltimore was cut short. He knows he deserved it, given the nature of the position.
“I think that there is a high standard out there that the kickers have set, and anything below that wont be tolerated,” Hauschka explained. “That’s just the nature of the position.”
“It’s a really obvious thing when the kicker misses a kick, as opposed to a tackle missing a block or something like that. When a kicker makes a mistake, everyone in the crowd knows it.”
“It’s real easy to point, and I read the other day that is a ‘blame position’, along with the quarterback. Quarterback and kicker, pretty much the two blame positions where it’s easy to say they messed it up, whereas with other positions, it’s not so easy for the average fan. That puts more pressure on you, which is the nature of the position and I understand that and have accepted that. I think most of us NFL guys have.”
But Hauschka still feels like he has the physical skills to kick in the NFL, and he feels like he is a talented kicker for having only kicked professional field goals for the last seven years.
“I didn’t start till my sophomore year in college. I had played soccer and lacrosse before that. My roommate in my freshman year was a football player, and I went out one day and kicked with him. He told me that I had to come out and try out for the team. He convinced the coach to let me come to training camp, and the rest is history. I came out and won the punting and kicking job, and did that for three years.”
Hauschka said that in today’s age where there are only 32 kicking jobs out there and guys like Stover hanging in the league for so long, it makes it hard for young guys like himself to hold down and grab a kicking job in the NFL.
“A lot of factors come into play,” Hauschka said. “It’s not easy for young guys to break in. There is only a couple open spots, and those open spots are relative to, so they come with a lot of competition. So there is only a couple open spots every year. And if a rookie is put in one of those positions, they really have to show something. It’s tough coming up with that experience that guys in the NFL already have. Even a couple years worth of experience is head and shoulders over a young guy or a rookie.”
And now, he is in Lions camp with the Detroit Lions, as he is being asked to hold down the kicking position until longtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson is back and healthy as he is recovering from off-season knee surgery.
“I’ve been here about a week-week and a half now. Things have been going fine. I love the organization a lot, and I like it here in Detroit.”
Much like Stover, Hanson is a legend in Detroit. He is only the Lions’ second kicker since 1980, is the league’s 8th leading scorer, and is the only player in the league to play with his original team before the creation of the salary cap and free agency.
Unfortunately for Hauschka, Hanson has only missed one game in his 18 years in the NFL. But Hauschka knew going in that this was really just another chance to prove to all the other teams in the league that he is a capable kicker.
“He’s still the guy here,” Hauschka said of Hanson. “He’s had a great career. He really is a great kicker. I think everyone expects that he’ll be the guy this year again. I’m just trying to help the team however I can, and I know at the current moment Jason is recovering from a minor injury. That is the need for me right now. But I’m going to try and help out the team any way I can.”
And already he has turned some heads. converting four field goals and getting six touch backs on August 21st against Denver, prompting second year Lions coach Jim Schwartz to say he has that “Ernie Els” kick. He kicked five extra points against Cleveland on Saturday.
“I can probably see what he is talking about,” Hauschka said of his coach’s response. “I don’t know exactly, but I’m just assuming I’m swinging easy and that the ball goes far. Ernie Els definitely has a smooth swing. That’s kind of what I try and do out there. I ‘ve got plenty of leg to get the ball where I need to get it, so if I swing smooth, I’ll be a lot more accurate.”
But Hanson was seen warming up before Saturday’s game against Cleveland, and if need be, could have probably gone out there for the game. Hauschka knows his time in Detroit is probably coming to an end soon, but he wants to keep working on trying to be a full-time NFL kicker instead of a part-time, injury replacement.
“I’m always working on something here or there just like any guy is,” he said. “I’m just kind of waiting for my next opportunity and putting my best out there every chance I get and taking advantage of those opportunities to show what I can do so that teams want to have me out there.”