EAGAN — Admit it, you think that holding for field-goal and extra-point attempts is one of the easiest jobs in football. Get on one knee, catch the snap, get the laces pointed out and you’ve done your job, right? It looks and sounds so simple.
The only thing is it isn’t. Just ask Matt Wile.
Wile lost his job as the Vikings’ punter in part because the team wanted to find a better holder for kicker Dan Bailey. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Chad Beebe were among those who got an opportunity to try their hand at holding in training camp, but nobody could beat out Wile and that helped to cost Wile his primary job.
Wile was let go one day after the final cutdown to 53 on Sunday and veteran punter Britton Colquitt, who had been let go by Cleveland, was signed to replace him. Colquitt has been holding for all 10 of his NFL seasons, or nine years and 11 months longer than Beebe. “I’m going to confidently say I’m better than him at that,” Colquitt told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Colquitt, 34, might sound cocky but he’s also correct. The Vikings need to get their kicking game in order — the decision to send a fifth-round pick to Baltimore in training camp for kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik backfired badly as Minnesota released Vedvik on Saturday — and having a quality holder for Bailey is key to the process.
“He’s done it for so long and he’s done it for different guys,” Vikings special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said of Colquitt. “I think the thing that he’s been pleasantly surprised with is Austin, our long snapper, and how accurate he has been. He’s just got a really good natural feel to it, and I think he’s done it for so long that you can’t replace those reps.”
Austin is Austin Cutting, whom the Vikings selected with their fourth and final selection in the seventh round last April. Cutting entered camp competing with veteran Kevin McDermott but the Vikings jettisoned McDermott on Aug. 11. The trio of Cutting, Bailey and Colquitt has been working on the kicking process since Colquitt’s arrival, preparing for the regular-season opener on Sunday against Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Everyday is big,” Colquitt said of gaining comfort. “It helps that I’ve been (holding) for a while, so I don’t feel too worried about the situation. It helps that Austin’s a really good snapper and that Dan’s patient and not crazy needy like most kickers are. He’s not going to complain about too much. … I think there was one time I might have put (the ball) down and had to turn it a little bit and as he’s kicking he says, ‘Good hold.’ Not all the kickers are saying, ‘Good hold,’ as they’re kicking it. Obviously, he’s pretty laid back, so that helps.”
Bailey made 21-of-28 field goals and 30-of-31 extra-point attempts after joining the Vikings for the final 14 games last season. It became clear the Vikings weren’t happy with the holding situation during training camp as Wile was no longer the lone holder. It didn’t help that Bailey struggled at times in practices at TCO Performance Center. The expectation is Colquitt’s presence will help a guy who is the fifth-most accurate kicker (86.6 percent) on field-goal attempts in NFL history.
Colquitt, whose father, Craig, won two Super Bowls while punting for the Pittsburgh Steelers and whose brother, Dustin, is a two-time Pro Bowl punter with Kansas City, was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Former Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer held the same job with the Broncos at the time and worked with Colquitt on holding. Colquitt took over as Denver’s punter in 2010.
“(Priefer) is a Naval Academy guy,” Colquitt said. “It was like I was in the military with the JUGS machine, working on holds, working on the spot. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
Colquitt held for Matt Prater and Brandon McManus in Denver and then spent the past three years in Cleveland. Colquitt was the holder for Greg Joseph for much of last season. Joseph made 17-of-20 field-goal attempts and 25-of-29 extra-point attempts. With Priefer now the special teams coordinator in Cleveland it was surprising that Colquitt didn’t stick with the Browns, but the team decided to go with rookie punter Jamie Gillan, who is known as “The Scottish Hammer.” Gillan also takes over as the Browns’ holder.
Gillan will have to learn certain tricks, such as it might be a good idea to wear gloves in order to cleanly catch a football that is coming at you like a fastball.
“It’s not that I don’t have good hands, but all these guys that are receivers in the NFL, they have pretty good hands, right?” Colquitt said. “But they also wear gloves. So, I’m catching a ball from 8 yards, which there’s not many NFL passes that are only 8 yards that are coming that quick. The timing has to be good.
“You’ve got to get the ball off in 1.3 seconds. … I was convinced (by my brother) that gloves are going to help you out if you can get used to it. Obviously, when weather comes along and stuff like that, you’ve got to figure it out. … You might lose the gloves. So, I always am working without them. I can hold without or without (gloves).”
Colquitt, whose brother is also the Chiefs’ holder, has been working on getting the tilt of the ball like Bailey wants it. “It is a science,” Colquitt said. “It is a thing where it’s more than just get down on a knee, catch it and put it down. I think with us together we kind of found a chemistry quick. But it’s more than just, whatever, it’s not as simple as you think.”
And it goes far beyond making sure the laces are always turned toward the uprights. “Like Dan and I were talking about the other day, here at practice there was a crosswind,” Colquitt said. “He likes the ball pretty straight up and down. Well, there was a crosswind to the left. So if I tilt that ball a little bit more into that wind he’s going to hit a straighter ball. Little things like that I’ve learned from kickers in the past. Prater and Brandon, my brother, those things kind of help.”
Said Maalouf: “Every guy has a tilt that they like depending on the conditions. If we’re playing outside, (the holder) may tilt (the ball) a little bit more depending on where the wind is going as well. Britton’s been very proficient in all that stuff. We’ve communicated with him and he’s done a great job of communicating with us what he likes and we’ve tailored it so far to him as well. It works both ways.”
These are the kind of things that separate a successful holder from one who might struggle with the assignment. Colquitt’s ability to both punt and hold is a reason why he will be entering his 10th NFL season and why Wile is looking for work.
“I think there’s a level of smoothness,” Maalouf said when asked about the difference between successful holders and those who struggle. “Just seeing him really place the ball down and getting the spot. He hasn’t had any problems with that for a long time before he got here. You just kind of see it. It’s even evident to somebody who’s not around it as much as I am. He’s done a really good job with it.”