Alex Henery looks at his end to last season differently than most.
Many Eagles fans recall only the 48-yard, first-quarter field goal he missed and the short kickoffs (some on purpose) in the 26-24 playoff loss to the Saints. Henery takes a longer view.
Six days earlier, in the winner-takes-NFC-East season finale against the Cowboys, the kicker swished a 47-yard attempt in the first quarter that proved to be the winning points in the Eagles' 24-22 clincher.
"I remember it was the first series because I always compare it to the Saints game," said Henery, who also had three touchbacks on five kickoffs in Dallas' dome. "If I didn't make that kick at Dallas, we wouldn't have won that game. But no one really noticed it, and you miss a kick early against the Saints, and you lose, and then everyone notices it.
"But that's the life of being a kicker."
Henery wasn't complaining as much as he was philosophically noting the criticism kickers must live with. He acknowledged that, of course, the postseason was more important, but the irony wasn't lost on the fourth-year kicker.
"We wouldn't have been in the playoffs if we didn't make that one," Henery said.
This spring, Henery has been asked a lot about last season. It was his least consistent in terms of field-goal accuracy, and there was the greater issue of his kickoffs, which often weren't nearly long enough.
The Eagles brought in competition for the first time in his NFL career, but initial indications are that undrafted rookie Carey Spear has little chance to win the job. Perhaps a veteran will eventually be brought in off the street, but for Henery the battle is mainly against himself.
"Competition can always make you better, but it's not like I'm worried about it," Henery said. "I'm here to do my thing and do it the best I can. . . . I'm a perfectionist. That's what drives me."
But he knows the pressure is on. Henery, who is entering the last year of his rookie contract, said he worked out more this offseason than ever before, although it wasn't necessarily to add distance to his kicks.
"I do feel stronger, if you measure it by how much you lift," Henery said. "It's like a golfer - sometimes the guys that can hit it the farthest aren't the biggest guys. I do feel like I've gotten stronger on my kickoffs, but a lot of that is technique, not so much strength."
There isn't an exact science when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of kickoffs. Henery's 41.1 touchback percentage (37 of 90) was tied for 23d in the league. The website Football Outsiders ranked the Eagles 31st in kickoffs, taking into account return yardage, which obviously wasn't all Henery's responsibility.
Asked if he was happy with his kickoffs in 2013, Henery said: "Yes and no."
"I felt like I started off decently," he added. "I thought I was hitting the ball good, and then once it gets colder, it's hard to hit touchbacks. It's been proven."
The snow game against the Lions certainly didn't help Henery's numbers, but he still pales in comparison to other cold-town outdoor kickers such as New England's Stephen Gostkowksi (65.7 touchback percentage) and Cleveland's Billy Cundiff (64.6).
Henery didn't kick off in college at Nebraska. He handled field goals and extra points for four seasons and then added punts the final two.
He had some deep kickoffs during the few open-to-the-media practices over the last few weeks.
"I think he's gotten a little bit stronger in terms of the distance he's kicking the ball and in terms of where we are placing the ball during kickoff drills," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "Excited to see where it is, especially when we get into some real, live situations."
On Tuesday, Henery connected on 6 of 6 field-goal attempts between 40 and 50 yards. Spear, whose kickoffs were also generally shorter, made 5 of 6. A week earlier, Spear hooked a 30-yard try about 10 yards wide left.
"You never want to miss them," Spear said, "but when you do there's nothing you can do about it, and you've got to move on to the next kick."
While Henery is tied for fourth all time in field-goal accuracy (86 percent) among NFL players with at least 80 attempts, the large majority of leaders are active. Kickers have become remarkably precise over the last decade.
Field-goal percentage also doesn't take into account distance, and Henery has neither been a consistent long-distance field-goal kicker nor a long-distance kickoff kicker. His longest career field goal is 51 yards. Five of his six misses last season, including in the playoffs, were from beyond 45 yards.
Through no fault of his own, Henery also lacks a last-moment, game-winning kick on his resumé. There is nothing the Eagles can do to simulate such a situation.
"Coaches always say that four games a year come down to a kick, so you would think somewhere in my three years I would have a game-winning kick," Henery said. "But that's just how it is. When it comes, it comes."
The introverted Henery understands criticism comes with the job, especially in football-crazed, championship-starved Philadelphia. He said that he stays off Twitter and that it helped to return to Nebraska in the offseason to distance himself from last season.
"You'll see different things here, whether it's the media saying stuff," Henery said. "But then again you can't worry about what they say. . . . People can say whatever they want these days and get away with it."
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