(Jake Rogers and Patrick O'Donnell)
After a year of having Jake Rogers virtually in on any play involving a kick, the Butch Jones regime will return to the traditional punter AND kicker format. It's not a knock on the punting ability of Rogers, who averaged 41.6 yards per boot. After all, going back to 2002, only in Kevin Huber's two years, did a UC punter have such numbers.
However, with a blossoming punter in the wings in Patrick O'Donnell, who occasionally brings rain with his hang time (much like Huber) Rogers will be returning to kicking the ball off the ground. This will allow him a little extra time and focus in kicking the ball into the net on the sidelines.
"The only thing it makes easier is the leg," said Rogers. "I don't have as many kicks during the game. I like it. Now I can focus on kicking and kicking's a whole different motion than punting."
The obvious upside (to the switch) is Rogers can concentrate his time on his accuracy, the one area where he's not at the top of UC's all-time leaders. There's no question the ability is there though, as Rogers once made 13 consecutive field goals between 2007 and 2008 (a record he shares with Jonathan Ruffin).
After a 102 point 2009, Jake Rogers has made 40 field goals in his Bearcat career. That leaves him one shy of Eric Richards for second place career-wise and 22 behind Ruffin for the all-time lead.
"You know, I'll take a look at those (records) when the season ends," said Rogers. "I'm focused on that next field goal and putting them through."
When he does put a field goal through, it's usually with authority. Rogers nailed a 55-yarder as a redshirt freshman against Oregon State, and went 53 yards at Hawaii in '08. In practice one week, with the entire team around shouting and heckling, he was good from 52 with a swing that looked like a professional golfer chipping onto a green. His leg strength is tremendous.
"I wouldn't say it's a lot stronger," said Rogers. "I know it is field-goal wise. Kickoffs are about the same--maybe a little bit deeper. I think the overall it's just contact and the feel of the ball is a little bit better."
However, looking at Rogers now compared to the young freshman from Warsaw, Indiana that redshirted behind Kevin Lovell in '06, you see an entirely different animal. The confidence has increased along with the weight.
"Obviously, coming in at 180 pounds my freshman year is a lot different than the 210-215 that I am now," said Rogers. "What Coach Lawson (strength and conditioning) has me doing now is focusing on my leg and my leg strength in the kicking area, so it's a good thing."
For Rogers, the extra work and focus hopefully pays off with a good season. From there, you'd have to think the NFL would be interested in a young man with such leg strength and potential.
"Yeah, that would be a great thing," acknowledged Rogers. "But, I'm just focused on the season and putting every one through. Tom (long snapper DeTemple) and Pat (holder/punter O'Donnell) have been doing a great job. I've been working with them a lot. One field goal at a time."
While Bearcat fans hope to see plenty of Rogers on extra points and the occasional field goal, there will be a punt from time to time. Sophomore Patrick O'Donnell now assumes that role thanks to his aerial displays over the spring and most recently at Camp Higher Ground. O'Donnell did have a few "cameos" in 2009.
"Yeah, I played three games last year," said O'Donnell. "It helped me develop. I think I'm definitely ready this year."
As many that have watched practice will tell you, O'Donnell has some pop in his leg and is probably the most likely Bearcat who could reach a light fixture in an indoor facility. The ball, as they say, "sounds different" coming off of his foot. Sending a football into orbit is a pretty good weapon to have on fourth down sometimes.
"Yeah, it is," said O'Donnell. "Coach likes it--my directional punting, right, left--hang it up there high and have fair catches."
New for O'Donnell will be the added job of holding for Jake Rogers. While this takes the added threat of Zach Collaros (last year's holder) off the field, it also keeps your starting quarterback from being injured on a fluke play. O'Donnell had previously practiced in this role, but has not performed it in a game situation.
"Just at camps and things like that," said O'Donnell. "Last year they really practiced with me. I was with Mike Windt (former long snapper) on the side a lot."
Of course, many wonder what this does to the possibility of the fake, or a broken play on a bad snap. Without making any guarantees, the 6-5, 214 pound O'Donnell is open to advancing the football from his squatted position.
"Oh yeah, definitely!" said O'Donnell with a smile. "If that's the play, then that's the play. I did play tight end my sophomore year (in high school) and I played linebacker a little bit. I've scored a touchdown or two in my day."
Regardless, focusing the rocket leg of Jake Rogers on field goals and the "Rainmaker" O'Donnell looks to be a pretty wise move by Coach Butch Jones. You could say the Bearcat kicking game is in pretty good hands (and feet).