Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Tuesday is a sad day in the Risdon household because the Detroit Lions waived kicker Harvard Rugland. Kickalicious just couldn’t beat out David Akers for the right to succeed Jason Hanson as kicker for the Lions.
I’ll admit it: I openly rooted for Rugland to win the job. From the first time I saw the YouTube video, I was captivated.
At the very least, Rugland showed enough leg strength to merit a look. The Lions had an opening and brought him in. To their credit, Detroit gave Rugland an honest chance at competing for the job. It would have been very easy for Jim Schwartz to dismiss Rugland as a sideshow, a novelty act with zero actual football experience. He’d never even worn pads before, let alone faced the prospect of defenders attempting to block his kicks or crash into his follow thru.
Yet every step of the way, Rugland passed the tests. Like all NFL kickers, he had the occasional bad day of camp. By and large, though, Rugland moved beyond his Kickalicious fame and proved he belonged. His teammates embraced him but also respected his work ethic and attitude, as Kevin Seifert highlighted here.
Unfortunately for Rugland, David Akers came prepared to fight. After a terrible and injury-marred season in San Francisco, Akers desperately sought redemption. With a return to full health, he found just that in Detroit. As strong as Rugland was in camp and preseason, Akers was just as good, if not better.
For a team with a tenuously employed coach and GM, going with Akers is an easy decision. It’s also the correct one, much as I hate to admit it. David Akers is one of the best kickers in NFL history. I’ll never forget the game winner against the Raiders in 2005, or his three field goals in the playoff win over the Giants in 2009, kicks that helpd earn Akers the 2nd team nod on the All-Decade team for the 00s (ironically, over Hanson). His leg looked great in nailing several long preseason kicks, notably the 49-yarder against New England that was the epitome of a perfect field goal. Choosing his proven reliability over a greenhorn like Rugland makes perfect sense.
Rugland’s biggest advantage over Akers was his ability to boom kickoffs out of the end zone, something Akers has not consistently shown. That advantage was blunted by punter Sam Martin, who could very well lead the league in touchback percentage on kickoffs.
The other advantage Kickalicious held was age. The Lions have had two kickers, Hanson and Eddie Murray, since 1980. Clearly this is an organization that cherishes stability at kicker, and Rugland offered a chance for that. He is 28, while Akers turns 39 late in the season. If the team wanted to continue the trend of having a long-term solution at kicker, Rugland was the easy choice. But this regime doesn’t have time to take that sort of long view; Schwartz & Co. must win and win now, even if it hurts the prospects for 2016 and beyond. A healthy Akers might have two good years left, and that’s long enough for this staff.
I do think Harvard Rugland deserves another chance with some team to earn their kicking job. He proved he is more than just Kickalicious, trick kick video phenomenon. He is Harvard Rugland, aspiring and talented potential NFL kicker. That alone should satisfy his Norwegian legion of fans. He proved he belonged…just not with these Lions. I know his Lions teammates, and Akers in particular, were impressed with his ability. No matter where he winds up in the NFL, I’ll still be a fan.