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The Replacements: Kicker

Throughout Scott Webb's career as Kansas' kicker, three of which where he was the primary kicker, he was a mostly average placekicker. He didn't have enough leg to nail the incredibly long FG or enough accuracy to continually pound the ball through the uprights, but he got the job done more often than not.

Last season, Webb had a pretty solid season overall, with absolutely porous showings in College Station and in Arrowhead making his year seem worse than it really was. Still, the kicking game certainly wasn't a strength and as Scott Webb has moved on to bigger-and-better things, we are now depending on the entirely unknown leg of one Stephen Hoge.

Unknown at the college level, that is. In fact, Hoge has a much better high school kicking pedigree than Webb did. A PrepStars All-American, Hoge was perfect on PAT's and nearly perfect on the FGs. More importantly, he repeatedly blasted the ball beyond the endzone for touchbacks, as over 80% of his senior year kickoffs were simply brought out tot he 20. Hoge is also a monster, physically, for a kicker, standing at a linebacker-like 6'4" 227. Naturally, with that frame, he is more of a power kicker who can kick the hell outta the ball as opposed to a Mike Vanderjagt/accuracy-at-all-costs kinda kicker.

During his recruitment back in 2006, ESPN described him in a similar light:

Hoge is a big kicker with a big leg. He is a right footed kicker who can get the ball up in a hurry. He is a tall gut who appears to be getting bigger and stronger. He consistently gets his kick-offs to the end zone with a good high trajectory. He has shown the ability to drive the ball through the end zone also. He demonstrates some consistency and accuracy making extra points and medium range kicks. He shows good timing but could improve on his flexibility and follow through. He does not get a full extension on his kicks and tends to punch the ball. He is a solid punter who consistently gets good hang time and distance. He punts with good tempo and does a good job of directional kicks inside the 20 yard ine. Overall, Hoge is a good kicker who will continue to improve as he grows and improves his technique and flexibility. He has the tools and the head to become a solid college kicker and punter.

Amidst that fairly standard review of a high school kicker (strong leg, soccer player, needs to improve on accuracy and mechanics) there is an interesting point. One, that he has no problem with kickoffs. Webb wasn't horrible on the long, returnable kicks down field, but they were nearly always just that: returnable. Maybe I am remembering incorrectly, but IIRC Webb was always a kick-it-to-the-goalline-at-most and watch the speedy guy take it and try to take it back. Our coverage unit is nearly always pretty solid, at least recently, but the actual kicks themselves were never stupendous. And with the rule change of last season, moving back the kickoff to the 30 yard line, a good kickoff became that much more important. Plus, according to the ESPN review, not only does Hoge drill the ball and make it unreturnable, he also does it with a "high trajectory", allowing more time for the coverage unit to sprint down field in order to make a tackle. So, even when Hoge's kicks fall short of touchback territory, the higher arc will allow more time for the Drew Dudleys and Justin Springers of the world to make a tackle.

So, in that area, Hoge figures to be a big improvement over the departed Webb. However, the real area of concern comes with the whole consistency thing. Hoge has more kicking talent, from what I've read, than Webb, and has a much stronger leg. Thus, the magical word that recruiting experts fall in love with comes into play; potential. Hoge has at least a decent chance of being a far superior kicker, both in the kickoff aspect and the field goals/PATs aspect. Of course, him having never even officially suited up for a college football game and, obviously, never having played a down, what he actually will bring to the table is yet to be determined. Maybe he'll be better, maybe he won't.

Stephen Hoge

Hoge's Facebook pic. What a happy camper

As with most freshmen, his performance (both for the upcoming season and his entire frickin' career) is nearly impossible to predict, although I have to think that Hoge's basement is about the same level as Webb. I suppose he would go way off the deep end and be wildly erratic, missing enough to start a fanbase-wide riot and demand that Mangino sign another kicker this season. But I would peg the chances of that happening at slim-to-none. More likely, he will become an upper echelon kicker in the Big 12; not a world-beater that will drill 70 yarders (like I demanded from him yesterday), but a really solid kicker who will be on the team for four more years, erasing a position completely from the offseason wish list for awhile.

In fact, I'll say that he is better than the Webber this year, and will only improve on his accuracy every year after. I'm a big fan of his Facebook pic, what can I say. Oh, and his power leg too. That impresses me.

Next Up: Punter