A disastrous Saturday practice for kickers Ben Pruitt and Will Russ significantly spiked the anxiety meter for Texas fans regarding the position, which has produced at a high level throughout the years. In fact, starting with the Rose Bowl against Michigan in early 2005, Texas kickers have come through in a number of high-pressure situations, culminating with the game-winning boot by the now-departed Justin Tucker against the Aggies last Thanksgiving, while never missing.
But Pruitt went 0-2 on Saturday, with a 32-yarder that went left but almost didn't have the leg to get there and Russ added a miss of his own during scrimmages for good measure, not to mention his odd side-spin attempts during warm ups.
As a result, head coach Mack Brown went into full damage-control mode on Tuesday when discussing the position:
We feel like [freshman kicker] Ben Pruitt has been doing well and did not do well this weekend. It is something we have talked to him about, and we want him to get back on track. I thought the kicking both days by [sophomore] Will Russ was pretty good. We all thought the one on Saturday was [good], but they called it wide right. It looked good to us. Neither one of them has gotten experience yet, and that is something we will look at the latter part of spring.
To this observer, at least, the kicking from Russ did not appear to be good or pretty good, in turn casting into doubt the claims that both have been solid on other days. And, Mack, I'm only a skeptic because you've made me a skeptic. Just sayin'.
As Texas fans have been doing in the last several days, Brown took a look forward to the fall and what it could bring:
You have some young men coming in in the fall that are walking on and we also have Nick Jordan. We think Nick is really, really good at the field-goal part of it for sure.
Jordan has his Army All-American credentials to his credit, but Pruitt was there as well and both clearly have some consistency issues to work out, at the least. The concern with Jordan is that after a strong junior season, he only made two field goals as a senior and reportedly struggled at times. So what are the odds that he can come in an demonstrate some consistency after that aspect of his kicking suffered his senior year?
Walk-on Nick Rose from Highland Park was expected to come in and compete with Russ for the punting job, as well as the kickoff specialist job. At this point, he may also be asked to try out as a the field goal kicker, too, after hitting eight as a senior, though it's not clear how many attempts he had.
Brown made it clear that the job will be open if Pruitt and Russ don't improve:
We are not going to have the experience that we have had, but we have kicked with a lot of young kickers before. I think Ben and Will will have their chance. If we don't feel better about the field goals and extra points by the end of practice, then we will let them go back and compete for it this summer and fall. That is why we signed Nick Jordan. It is unusual that we have signed kickers, but we knew that Justin [Tucker] had done so much for us that that was an area we had to get fixed.
This is an area that apparently still needs to get fixed.
It's possible that Brown is right and this is just an overreaction to a bad day of practice. Yet, there's no visual evidence to suggest that either Pruitt or Russ can hit kicks in game-like situations, as neither have attempted a kick in a collegiate game.
The surge of improvement from quarterback David Ash has somewhat reduced the question marks surrounding that position, so kicker may now be the position that most limits the upside of this football team, especially if Texas can't solve the redzone issues that have dogged the 2010 and 2011 groups.
Time to press the panic button? Probably not, but my finger, at least, is certainly hovering over it and will be until the spring game, which will hopefully feature some converted field goal attempts.