The 2013 season ended with a tough playoff loss for the Philadelphia Eagles, but the franchise entered the offseason with a largely optimistic outlook both within the organization and amongst its fanbase. But one player who saw the tide turn against him in 2013 was kicker Alex Henery. Special teams became an issue for the team, and was largely responsible for the team’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Henery’s inability to kick the ball out of the endzone on kickoffs led the coaching staff to take drastic measures in that game against top kick returner Cordarelle Patterson, intentionally kicking short kickoffs to avoid the big plays. While this strategy may have been ill-advised, it was easy to see why the staff wanted to do something after Detroit got two special teams touchdowns in the previous game.
Henery did not end the season on a good note. He missed a 48-yard field goal in the Saints playoff game, a game that Philadelphia would end up losing by one point. Fans will remember that a similar playoff performance by long-time kicker David Akers led to former head coach Andy Reid running him out of town … only to reach for Henery in the fourth round of the disastrous 2011 NFL Draft.
It is clear that Henery has not lived up to his draft pick, but that is simply the nature of being picked that early. No kicker is ever going to live up to that kind of draft slot. Still, Henery’s inability to kick for touchbacks on a regular basis is a problem that the team wants to solve. While Kelly started off saying he thought Henery was kicking the ball farther in offseason team activities, he quickly backed off such a statement by saying it was too early to tell.
The focus is certainly on how the coaching staff feels about Henery, now that his spot is suddenly insecure. Fans and pundits expected the Eagles to bring in competition for Henery, and they did, signing undrafted free agent Carey Spear from Vanderbilt. The desire to upgrade from Henery was going to lead to fans rallying around any competition brought around, but Spear’s signing has brought things to another level.
Philadelphia media picked up and ran with “Murderleg” when referring to Spear. Purportedly his nickname while playing at Vanderbilt, it was actually more of a pet name for Spear given to him by a blog covering Vanderbilt athletics. Spear himself was unfamiliar with the name until questioned about it by Eagles beat writers, but the origin story seems to matter little at this point.
He “earned” the nickname because of his reputation for laying big hits after kickoffs. There are a number of videos floating around showing Spear flying about on kickoff returns, taking out ball carriers and blockers alike. It is clear that Spear is not afraid to get physical, and that is certainly something that has endeared him to fans paying attention to the kicking competition.
But can he kick at the NFL level? Not really. While Henery’s leg is not the strongest, there is nothing to indicate that Spear has a stronger leg and his might even be a bit weaker. In addition, he is not as accurate as Henery. So unless the plan is to make up for the lack of touchbacks by adding Spear as an eleventh man in kickoff coverage schemes, he does not really offer anything to the Eagles that they don’t already have.
Spear’s lack of actual kicking credentials makes him essentially an insurance player in case Henery goes down with an injury. He does not appear to be legitimate competition for Henery. This says that either the Eagles are satisfied with Henery’s play, or that they did not see anyone in this draft class who could improve upon it. Eagles fans should expect at least one more year with the incum