With three preseason games left to play, the punting battle between Chas Henry and Mat McBriar is a long way from over.
McBriar, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Cowboys who is coming off a serious leg injury, averaged 42.3 yards per attempt on three first-half punts against the Steelers Thursday night and had a 39.3-yard net average.
Henry averaged just 37.8 yards per attempt on four punts, but the line of scrimmage for two of his punts was inside the Pittsburgh 40-yard line, which contributed to his lower average. He put two punts inside the 20, including a 54-yarder in the third quarter.
``I’m not happy, but it’s a start,’’ said McBriar, who had an impressive 45.3-yard career average in eight seasons with Dallas. ``You have to start somewhere. I’m looking for improvement this week. I hope I perform a lot better up in New England.’’
The 33-year-old McBriar still is recovering from February surgery to remove a cyst from behind the knee of his non-kicking leg. The cyst was pressing on a nerve and causing a condition known as drop foot, which prevented him from being able to lift the front of his plant foot.
``Yesterday was the first day I kicked without my brace,’’ he said on Sunday. ``It’s getting back to where it was. I just don’t quite have the strength or the balance that I had. That’s still coming.’’
Ultimately, the punting battle between Henry and McBriar may not even come down to punting, but holding. The Eagles’ punter doubles as a holder for placekicker Alex Henery. Henry was Henery’s holder last year when he converted 24 of 27 field goal attempts as a rookie. He also held on Henery’s game-winning 51-yard field goal against the Steelers
``(Holding) factors in a lot,’’ special teams coordinator Bobby April said. ``Mat’s been holding quite a bit. The though thing is Alex is working with two holders right now. But it factors in a lot. The good thing is Mat’s a good holder.
McBriar was the holder in Dallas last year until his leg problem made it difficult for him to even walk. He was placed on injured reserve in Week 15 and was released after the season.
McBriar said he has ``no problem at all’’ moonlighting as a holder, but he admitted a few years back to reporters in Dallas that he didn’t like to hold and was relieved when the team began using a quarterback as a holder.
He had some problems in ’09 holding for Cowboys kicker Nick Folk. McBriar admitted he had a tendency to reach for the snap rather than let the ball come to him and was spotting it a few inches farther away from where it was supposed to be. It seemed to occasionally messed up Folk’s timing.
``For some reason, I get a little ahead of myself and I lunge out to catch the ball, which I shouldn’t,’’ McBriar told reporters in ’09. ``Every time I should catch the ball over the spot, I move forward. It’s something in my brain, I don’t know.’’
April said he didn’t notice any problems with McBriar’s holding when he was with the Cowboys and hasn’t noticed any since he signed with the Eagles.
``I didn’t ever see a problem,’’ he said. ``And he hasn’t had any problem out here.’’