BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Forget the Pro Bowl cornerbacks the Eagles have brought in. Forget the stud defensive linemen and the vaunted new coaches and all the other blockbuster additions.
Two of the most important newcomers at Lehigh University this summer arent very big and arent very fast. If you watch practice, you might not even notice them.
Meet Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry.
The Eagles have certainly added a number of studs in recent days, but theyve also lost two.
Sav Rocca was the best punter in Eagles history. And David Akers was the best kicker in Eagles history. Rocca signed with the Redskins, Akers with the 49ers, with the Eagles making no real attempt to re-sign either one.
And now theyre trying to replace both with two rookies.
Will Henery be able to replace Akers, whos been picked to more Pro Bowl teams than only three kickers in NFL history (Lou Groza, Morten Anderson and Jan Stenerud)?
Will Henry be able to replace Rocca, whose 42.9 gross average and 37.6 net over the past four years are both the best in franchise history?
The Eagles are betting they can.
I think these kids are going to be great, said Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Dorenbos, whos entering his ninth NFL season.
Obviously, these guys have proven at the highest level of college that they can do this. Chas was at Florida and Alex was such a great kicker at Nebraska. If they did in college, they can do it here. Theres really no difference between that level and this level other than the hype of the NFL.
Henry and Henery nicknamed Henry VI and Henry VIII based on their jersey numbers certainly have tremendous pedigrees.
Henery made an NCAA-record 90 percent of his field goal attempts at Nebraska, connecting on 68 of 76 tries. And Henry won the Ray Guy Award and was named a first-team All-America at Florida this past season, when he averaged an NCAA-best 45.1 yards per punt.
But this isnt college anymore. This is the NFL, which often has a way of discarding record-setting college stars. Very quickly and decisively.
Theyre like every other rookie theyve got to come out and show what they can do, and theyve got to perform, special teams coach Bobby April said. Theyre talented guys, like all the guys we bring in here.
David and Sav, those guys proved it. Sav had his best year last year, and Dave has had an unbelievable career. Those guys did a great job here, but Im excited about these two guys.
The Eagles drafted Henery in the fourth round and signed Henry as an undrafted free agent.
The last time the Eagles started a season with a rookie placekicker and punter was 1979, when kicker Tony Franklin and punter Max Runager were both rookie draft picks.
In 1984, the Eagles went with two untested guys rookie kicker Paul McFadden and punter Mike Horan, who had never previously played in a regular-season game but technically wasnt a rookie because he was in Broncos camp the year before.
Either way, its rare.
They havent kicked in the National Football League, but these guys have kicked in some pretty big games, April said. You go down on a Saturday night to a game in the SEC, and youve got to punt in (LSUs) Tiger Stadium? Not saying its the same. Im sure theres a few more pounds of pressure you could put on them. But thats pretty high-profile. Same way with Nebraska. Youre called on to kick and win a Big 12 championship? Thats some pretty big-time pressure.
So its not that they havent performed under pressure. They just havent performed under NFL pressure. Now, its not the exact same thing, its a different deal. But they have not succumbed to pressure at this point, and hopefully they never will.
The Eagles dont have another punter or kicker in camp, which is unusual in any season but especially one in which theres an expanded roster and the punter and kicker are rookies.
I guess you never know until they get out there, Dorenbos said. But theyve worked hard, and they deserve the opportunity, and now its up to us three to get it right on game day.
For what its worth, Henry and Henery, roommates at the Sayre Park dorms during training camp, both come across as supremely confident.
They dont kick like rookies. They dont act like rookies.
I love the pressure, Henry said. I went to a school where the fans were very dedicated and thrived on winning, and youre definitely in pressure situations, playing in big-time atmospheres, playing in big-time games, lots of national media attention, so that kind of helps prepare you to that aspect of the NFL.
Of course, its magnified here, because Philly is such a huge market, top-five market, so everything gets blown up here. But Im comfortable with that. I like it.
Henery sounds a lot like Akers, talking about the most minute details of placekicking.
He said he enjoys the fact that hes following one of the best bad-weather kickers in NFL history.
Im a perfectionist myself, he said. The fans here arent going to give me any slack, so Im not going to give myself any slack. Just go out there and do what I can, and Ill be fine.
Henery doesnt care.
Im not doing anything different than what I did in college, so its just a matter of doing what I do, making sure Im in my rhythm, and everything else will take care of itself, he said. One thing I pride myself on is just being able to calm myself down when I kick.
Akers, the Eagles kicker since 1999, has had eight seasons where hes made at least 82 percent of his kicks. Only five kickers have had more.
Rocca? Over the last three years, he dropped 78 punts inside the opposing 20 and had just 10 touchbacks.
Tough acts to follow. But April feels good about the Hen(e)rys.
These guys, theyre both exceptional talents, April said. Theyre two of the best talents to come out of college football in a long time. Both of them are exceptional. But theyve got to perform. Thats the only thing that counts.
This isnt where we can wean them into things. That running back you picked? You can give him a little more time. These guys, they have to be the guy. They dont have that luxury of working their way in. Theyve got to do it now.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.