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Nugent Has a Leg Up on the Season Ahead


Nugent struts passed the dismantled Dolphin CB

Phase Two is complete for Mike Nugent, which show that Phase One was no spring fling and bodes well for Phase Three, where the Jets' kicker is eyeing an elevation of his game in a couple of different ways.

"It does feel really good," Nugent said after he thumped the ball with authority on his kickoffs and his game-winning field goal as time expired Thursday in the Jets' preseason finale — the end of the aforementioned Phase Two. "I think I still have a lot of work to do, especially watching a guy like David Akers. He can put that ball through no matter what, and you know it's going to a good spot."

Actually, on this night Nugent outkicked Akers, the Eagles' kicker and one of the players he admires in the NFL. "Nuge" nailed 48- and 35-yard tries — the latter the Jets' first "walk-off" field goal in any game since John Hall drilled the Chiefs in the rain in Kansas City in 1998. Meanwhile, Akers never got off one 46-yarder due to a bad snap and hold, then pushed another 46-yarder right before finally converting from 43.

But that hardly tarnished Akers' image in Nugent's eyes.

"The guys I really look up to, I like to see if I can compete with them," he said, "with a guy at David's level or at [Adam] Vinatieri's level."

Based on Phase Two, "Nuge" may be ready to step up in class. In training camp, the only times he ever seemed to miss long field goals were on those narrow goalposts. Then came the games, and Nugent went 5-for-6 on field goals, his lone miss coming from 52 yards out in the opener vs. Atlanta.

It may be telling that head coach Eric Mangini, when asked about that miss three days later, said, "I thought we were going to get that one. ... I felt pretty good about that."

But the real quantum leap has been on Nugent's kickoffs, and for that we have to go back to Phase One, the OTAs and minicamp at which it first became apparent that something was different with the diminutive kicker's leg — he was putting his practice kickoffs consistently deep into the end zone.

There was talk of his conditioning program, of his South Florida visit with Olindo Mare, now no longer a Dolphin but a Saint. There was also fear that this was a mirage that would dissipate in the summer heat.

It didn't. Consider these telling stats from Nugent's preseason:

  • In his first two regular seasons, he got only 15 percent of his kickoffs (21 of 137) to the goal line or into the end zone. In this year's four preseason games, that average was up to 53 percent (9 of 17).
  • In 2005-06, his kickoffs on average reached the opponents' 8-yard line. This summer the average was to the opponents' half-yard line.
  • Nugent had as many touchbacks this preseason, three, as he had in those first 33 regular- and postseason games.

"There were a couple tonight that I felt like I could've hit a little better, but still I got good results," he said from South Philly. "I'm really happy with the way it's been going. I just need to keep working at it."

More work on top of all the work he's done already? There are no guarantees, of course, but as you may have heard on a few weeks ago, Nuge could be huge in Phase Three, the regular season that looms just ahead.

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