Potential cure for Arizona punter Keenyn Crier: Relaxby Anthony Gimino on Oct. 14, 2010, under Sports
For lunch and a quick therapy session, Arizona Wildcats senior punter Keenyn Crier just needs to go across the street from Arizona Stadium.
He’ll head over to Zendejas #13, probably order a green chile burrito, and hope to run into the Arizona legend himself, former place-kicker Max Zendejas. Crier is looking for some good eats and good advice on the never-ending battle to win the mental game.
That is where Crier is struggling right now. Trying to find his comfort zone. Trying to relax. To trust his powerful right leg. To believe in his punt protection.
“I think my biggest thing is I get so excited, I start freaking myself out,” Crier said.
So, what does Zendejas tell him in general terms?
“Just kick the ball,” Crier said.
Sounds simple, but such words mean a lot more coming from a guy who beat Notre Dame on a 48-yard field goal and whose late-game heroics lifted Arizona over rival Arizona State … twice.
“He knows I’ve got it. And I know I’ve got it,” Crier said.
Everyone knows he’s got it … if by “it” we’re talking about the raw ability to be one of the best punters in the country.
“The leg is still there,” confirmed special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt.
But what is concerning is that Arizona is last in the Pac-10 — and 103rd out of 120 teams in the nation — in net punting, averaging 33.1 yards per attempt. That average has steadily fallen from Crier’s freshman season, when the Wildcats averaged 38.1 net yards per punt.
“A lot of it has to do with we don’t do a good job of pinning opponents when we have a chance to pooch kick,” Hammerschmidt said. “We have to do a better job of that.”
That is exactly the point I was making in my story after Saturday night’s loss to Oregon State, when Crier three times failed to pin the Beavers deep in their territory.
From the comments section of that story:
(Crier) had three punts — three chances — to be a weapon on special teams against Oregon State. From the UA 48, he knocked a punt into the end zone. From the UA 45, he hit one (with no return) to the OSU 20. From the OSU 47, he nearly kicked it out of the end zone for a touchback.
Against Cal, he had a punt from the Bears 39 … another touchback. He had one from the UA 44 that ended in a fair catch at the Cal 24. To his credit, he also hit one from the Cal 45 that was fair caught at the 4. (Arizona turned that field position advantage into a field goal … exemplifying how important he can be).
Against Iowa, he managed just a 21-yard punt from the Iowa 47.
Those are seven “inside the 20″ chances in the past three games, and he converted only one. I don’t expect him to nail all of them, but when he fails to be better in tight games, I think that’s worthy of identifying as a current problem.
Hammerschmidt says Crier has nice rhythm in practice but is rushing his kicks in games. He speeds everything up, which leads to breakdowns in technique, which leads to inconsistency.
“When he relaxes, he can really hit it,” Hammerschmidt said. “That’s on me, getting him to relax a little bit more.”
Sounds like coach and punter aren’t necessarily on the same page here, though.
“It’s pregame and we’re both excited, and he wants to come and talk me up and give me all this confidence when he just needs to let me do what I need to do,” Crier said. “I get so excited to the point where I forget what I’m doing.”
Crier said it’s also a matter of reviewing the game film and seeing that his punt protection is solid, that he doesn’t have to hurry his punts to make sure they don’t get blocked. Arizona hasn’t had a punt blocked on his watch.
Now, he just needs to relax and get it done.
Basically, it all goes back to what he hears from Zendejas: Just kick the ball.