JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Scott Sisson tosses a ball to Bryan Barker, who drops it onto his right foot and aims for a distant spot inside the 10-yard line. Mike Hollis looks on, waiting to help retrieve the half-dozen or so balls that Barker will lift toward the end zone.
Kickers and punters lead a lonely life in training camp, working in obscurity for the most part while the rest of their teammates smash into each other on some distant practice field. The coaches pay them no attention. Neither do the fans, for the most part.
Occasionally, someone will stop by gawk at a kicker’s artistry. On this day at the Jacksonville Jaguars camp, three fans were drawn to Barker as he worked on his ``coffin-corner″ punts: trying to angle the ball inside the 10 without it going into the end zone.
The spectators cheered when Barker rolled one out of bounds at the 1. He seemed to thrive on the rare bit of appreciation, dropping his next one dead at the 2.
But for the most part, satisfaction is a self-applied emotion. They are the outcasts, the players that everyone else merely tolerates.
``Nobody is for the kickers but the kickers,″ said Sisson, who is competing for the Jaguars place-kicking job against Hollis. ``That includes the coaches, the players, the fans and the media.
``When they assigned people to running groups, they just throw the kickers in wherever there’s space available. When we’re working out, we’ll say, `Why are we working out with the linemen today? They’ll say, `Because there were too many wide receivers or whatever in another group.′ But we don’t lift the same weight as guys and it’s like ``Well, we’re sorry, you’ll just have to change the weights.′ So it’s just kind of tag along and fit in wherever there’s room.″
A kicker knows that other players don’t consider him a real football player. He’s the guy who couldn’t play any other position, who wouldn’t dare get his uniform dirty.
``Everybody always say, `Ah, the life of a kicker. What a life. I wish I was a kicker,‴ observed Barker, the only punter in the Jaguars camp. ``But when it comes down to fourth down in the fourth quarter into the win to help win a game or preserve a lead, they’ll all take a step back and say, `Go ahead.‴
In training camp, the kickers and punters stand alone, just as they do during the regular season. Practice involves a lot of solitary work, with the kickers expected to manage their time wisely _ and retrieve their own balls. Occasionally, they’ll be called to the field with everyone else to take part in a special teams drill, like kickoff returns or punt blocking.
``It’s odd,″ Sisson said. ``You never feel like you’re kicking for yourself. You’re always supplementing some other drill.″
On the other hand, training camp is easier for the kickers than it is for everyone else. At their Stevens Point, Wis., camp, the Jaguars’ offensive and defensive players spent several hours a day in meetings in addition to the two-a-day practices; the kickers got together for only a few minutes to view films of their limited work. After that, there was plenty of time for playing pool, heading to Kmart or just sleeping.
``It’s a very centralized procedure,″ Sisson said. ``No, we’re not in a meeting room two hours learning plays. We’re off by ourselves most of the time. ... It’s much a mental thing rather than a learning thing. I know all I need to know.″
Kickers have a tendency to bond together, and it’s no different at the Jaguars’ camp as Sisson, Hollis and Barker quickly formed their own little clique.
``You’re not going to really end up hanging around some big offensive lineman,″ Hollis said. ``We wouldn’t have that much to talk about.″
Both Sisson and Hollis realize that one of them won’t have a job with the Jaguars at the end of training camp. Still, their friendship endures.
``We’re both in this to do the best we can,″ Hollis said. ``We don’t see it as a competition between us. It is, but to us, it’s really not. You’re competing against yourself. If you do good or do great, that’s what you do. If Scott does good, that’s what he did. You can’t focus on what he did or I did.″
Barker truly is competing against himself as the only punter in the Jaguars’ camp. He realizes that there are plenty of qualified punters just a phone call away but enjoys not having to go head-to-head like Sisson and Hollis.
``It allows me to concentrate on what I need to do instead of getting in some home run-hitting contest with somebody,″ Barker said.
Barker’s situation sums up the uniqueness of kickers and punters in general. They’re not out there banging heads every day with a bunch of other guys who want their job.
``A lot of guys don’t like what you do. They feel like you don’t do much. There are coaches out there who feel like in five or 10 years you won’t even have kickers,″ Hollis said.
``That’s just their opinion. What we do is part of the game. Somebody has got to do it.″
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