It started with a lot of hype, which isn’t the same thing as starting well. Carey Spear came to town with an interesting nickname and a lot of attention. Which means he had a lot of eyes on him. Which means a lot of people saw that first flub.
During one of his first practices with the Eagles, Spear mishit a field goal attempt at the NovaCare Complex so badly that it looked like he was aiming at something other than the middle of the goalposts. These things happen from time to time. It was an inauspicious start, but since then Spear has kicked the ball better.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable,” Spear said. “I’m improving every day. That’s the goal in June -- make improvements and tweaks.”
It seems Spear has settled down enough to at least push embattled incumbent Alex Henery. Henery is still the favorite to win the job, but that doesn’t mean the run-up to the season is without pressure. Even if Henery won’t admit it. During mini-camp this week, he gave the expected reply and said he doesn’t worry about his job or dwell too much on the competition. Maybe he should.
“If you’re in our 90, you’re here to compete for a job,” Chip Kelly said. “There’s no one here who’s just taking space. [Spear has] improved since he’s gotten here. I know Dave Fipp is working with him really closely. I’ve seen improvements since he got here on day one. He’s in camp to compete for a job.”
Spear is in camp to compete for a job because Alex Henery made that necessary. Despite special teams coach Fipp ballparking Henery as “roughly the 14th-best kicker” in the NFL, the former fourth-round pick regressed last season and missed big kicks in inopportune moments.
Henery made 23 of 28 field goal attempts last season. He connected on 7 of 10 attempts between 40-49 yards. In wins, he was 6 for 6 from that distance. But in losses, he was 1 for 5. That includes the playoff defeat at home to the Saints. Henery missed a 48-yard field goal that could have been the difference in a game the Eagles lost by two.
Henery’s overall field goal percentage last season put him 22nd in the NFL. He was tied for 18th on attempts between 40-49 yards, and tied for 25th on attempts of 50 yards or more.
As a rookie, Henery hit 89 percent of his field goals. In 2012, he made 87 percent. A year ago, that number dipped to 82 percent.
Henery has had some trouble on short field goals, and he hasn’t been great from long distance, either. For his career, he’s missed four field goal attempts from 39 yards or closer. And he’s never made a field goal longer than 51 yards.
Then there were the kickoffs. Oh, the kickoffs -- fluttering and dying, with little chance of going out of the back of the end zone for touchbacks. You remember the kickoffs. How could you forget?
Out of 89 kickoffs last year, only 37 were touchbacks. That’s not good. Of the 32 kickers who booted 50 or more kickoffs, Henery was 24th in the NFL with a 41.6 touchback percentage.
So, the competition. The competition was necessary and possibly overdue.
“I don’t think I’m out here just for the sake of being out here,” Spear said.