By Bruce Baskin
Bruce Baskin of Chehalis has been a football fan since the 1967 Ice Bowl and follows the Dolphins as sports director for WRMI radio in Miami.
Seahawks fans are watching and waiting to see what rabbits general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll pull out of their proverbial hat. In a short time, the two have turned the draft into their personal gold mine.
Everyone points to Russell Wilson, of course, who was indeed a steal in last year’s third round. But Wilson is only one player who exemplifies how Schneider and Carroll have been able to think outside the box and find players who’ve been underrated or overlooked.
This year’s draft contains such a hidden gem, one with the potential to become the NFL’s first kicker-punter since the Rams’ Frank Corral in 1981. Oklahoma State All-American Quinn Sharp need not be taken early, but there’s no reason Schneider and Carroll can’t use a later draft pick on Sharp to potentially fill three roles on special teams:
PLACEKICKING – Sharp was Oklahoma State’s regular kicker over the past two seasons, earning All-America honors and leading all FBS kickers in scoring both years. In 2011 and 2012, he was a combined 50 for 57 on field-goal attempts and 151 for 152 on extra points for 301 points. Sharp booted a 60-yard field goal on his Pro Day this year.
KICKOFFS – Opposing kick returners didn’t have much luck against the Cowboys. Sharp led the nation in touchbacks on kickoffs each of his four years at Oklahoma State, including 70 percent of his kickoffs in 2012. Of 384 career kickoffs, 220 never made it out of the end zone. Even Devin Hester can’t return a kickoff that sails over his head.
PUNTING – This may be Sharp’s stock in trade. He averaged 45.9 yards per punt over four seasons in Stillwater. Of his 204 career punts, 69 were downed inside the 20-yard line, 81 went 50 or more yards and none was blocked. He blasted a 78-yarder as a sophomore All-American in 2010 and reportedly can get five seconds of hang time.
Granted, the kicking game is not a weakness for the Seahawks. Jon Ryan did an outstanding job as a punter in 2012, while recently re-signed kicker Steven Hauschka was no worse than adequate. Yet this kid could be special and fill two roles.
Although it has been more than three decades since a kicker-punter has plied his trade in the NFL, players like San Diego’s Dennis Partee and Cleveland’s Don Cockroft filled dual roles ably in the 1960′s and 70′s. At best, such an individual can occupy two positions with one roster spot, freeing his team to find another player to address a separate need. At the very least, a two-way kicker like Sharp or Fordham’s Patrick Murray (25 of 30 on field goals, 30 of 31 on extra points and 46 yards per punt in 2012) is worth a spot on the practice squad. Just in case.
Kickers and punters are perhaps the most overlooked people on the field because what they do is so specialized and removed from the rest of the team, but you can ask Jim Harbaugh how important the kicking game is.
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