But threading the ball between the posts for three is only part of what has made Folk’s year so impressive to date.
Perhaps even more impressive than his field goal kicking? His kickoffs.
“Nick’s doing a great job at hitting the ball,” special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said Thursday. “We’ve changed his regimen during the week. We’ve given him a little more time, and I think he’s had a little bit more rest. And he’s doing a great job. We worked his technique a little bit in training camp and I just see a more consistent, powerful ball striker this year.”
Whereas last season, under long-time ST coordinator Mike Westhoff, Folk would kick the ball 105-110 times per week in practice, that number has been reduced to 70-75 times in a typical week this season.
Although it’s just practice — yes, we’re talking about practice — “I’m putting everything I have into those kicks,” Folk said.
“You can do things technique-wise right,” he explained, “but you don’t want to ruin a rhythm if you have one, so you do it at full speed so that you can get everything done properly and make sure that your rhythm isn’t thrown off for Sundays.”
Of 33 kickoff attempts this year, 21 of them have gone into or through the end zone for a touchback, a rate of 63.6%. In 2011 and ’12 combined, 29 of his 149 kickoffs went for touchbacks, a rate of just 19.5%. Folk’s current pace of 48 touchbacks for the 2013 season would surpass his six-year total of 40. Granted, that goes back to the “old days” before 2011 when kickoffs were from the 30 instead of the 35, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
In addition to keeping his kicker’s leg fresh, Kotwica’s allowing Folk to “kick it down the middle a little more," and that’s helping immensely.
Folk likened kicking less per week to a baseball pitch count. He compared not worrying too much about directional kicking to “a long-drive competition where you have a huge fairway to hit.”
On top of those two factors, Folk’s improved kickoff success this season can also be credited to his dedication in the offseason when he “got some things straightened out.”
As the year continues, the odds are stacked heavily against Folk continuing his pursuit of perfection. Falling temperatures and increasing wind gusts will likely pull the NFL touchback rate down.
“The ball’s just not going to fly,” Folk said. “The cold air packs it in real hard, you have no room for compression, and there’s no extra spring, so it’s like kicking a rock at times. The ball just won’t go anywhere.
“I know now with the weather changing, the ball’s just not going to go as far, so we’re going to need to pin them in the corner a little more. That’s going to come, whether it’s this week or next week or after the bye or whenever.”
Until then, sit back, relax, kick off your shoes and enjoy the kickoff show.
*Special Teams Saturday