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Irish Insider: Three simple, shorter steps work for Price

Ken Fowler | Friday, August 25, 2006

Geoff Price laid a towel on the ground, took three short steps back and became a better punter.

The concept was that simple, but the realization of his improvement goals was not – it took hours of work on Price’s part to see his labor finally come to fruition.

Price needed to shorten his strides and kick the ball quicker after receiving the snap to increase his length, consistency and trajectory.

So he used a simple mechanism to implement the idea.

“I would put a towel on the ground and take three steps back like a kicker taking a field goal,” Price said. “Then I had to get the ball off before I got [to the towel].”

Price’s problem before this spring was that he had taken long steps throughout his punting career, and that routine became a “bad habit.”

And for the past three seasons, Price’s bad habit had the luxury of hiding behind the usually consistent punting of D.J. Fitzpatrick, who delivered all but one of Notre Dame’s punts during the 2005-06 season. (Brady Quinn’s 48-yard boot against Stanford was the lone kick Fitzpatrick did not attempt.)

But now the senior Price is front and center in the punting game.

The “bad habit” became a serious problem.

“There was a technical flaw that needed to get fixed,” special teams coach Brian Polian said.

So Polian used a familiar face to help deliver Price the message that he had to change.

Polian contacted Hunter Smith, a former Notre Dame standout and now a Pro Bowl punter with the Indianapolis Colts. Because of NCAA rules, Smith cannot work directly with Price, but the two had several conversations on punting techniques.

“It’s not that Hunter shared any great secret with him, that Hunter unlocked the key to any door,” Polian said. “I think sometimes it’s just very effective to hear it from another voice because I just become noise once in a while…. And to have somebody who was a Domer and does it in the NFL, that holds a lot of water.”

Price took Smith’s advice -which was much the same as Polian’s, but from a fresh source – and worked throughout the spring and summer to improve. Price said it has taken countless repetitions but has paid off.

Special teams captain Travis Thomas thinks so.

“He’s been averaging about forty-eight yards a punt during all of camp,” Thomas said after Notre Dame’s practice Tuesday. “The thing with Geoff is, when he’s relaxed, he’s much better.”

Thomas said Price’s confidence in his new delivery has allowed him to relax and kick better. One of his jobs as special teams captain, Thomas said, is to keep Price in the right state of mind so he can kick his best.

Price thinks he can stay in a comfortable zone.

One person who has tested that has been Irish head coach Charlie Weis.

“Him just standing back there talking to me while I’m trying to kick, that’s worse than anything,” Price said. “[With] Georgia Tech coming up, I’m not scared of 80,000 people [or] national television. I’m scared of Weis two yards behind me just chirping in my ear, saying all the things he can, trying to get me to mess up.”

Price said Weis told him the team’s nighttime scrimmage in Notre Dame Stadium Aug. 14 was his “one shot” to prove what he’s got.

A day after Price said that, Weis claimed the punter was exaggerating.

Either way, Price delivered that night. He estimated an average of 56 yards a kick.

Price isn’t satisfied with that, though. He said he is willing to sacrifice a few yards if he can heighten his ball flight to avoid out-kicking his coverage.

He said he’ll continue to work on trajectory throughout practices leading up to the Georgia Tech game and beyond.

But his teammates and coaches say he’s a different punter than he was a year ago.

“To see the way his improvement has continued has been very encouraging,” Polian said.

And Polian knows where the improvement came from.

Just three short steps.