There has been lots of talk about Kurn's shanked punt causing the organization to bring in other punters this week and possibly even leading to his departure as a Denver Bronco. Well, what causes a shanked punt? Why should this guy be kicked to the curb (pun) for his shanked punt?
First of all, I'll establish a little bit of credibility. I played soccer for 13 years and keeper for 8 years. I was responsible for field kicks (when the ball goes out at the touch line, the ball is placed 8 yards from the touch line and kicked toward center field) and punting the ball after making a save. Although, it's a different sport, the punter/kicker/keeper positions are pretty similar. Of course, in soccer there is a round ball but that's irrelevant, as many soccer players turn out to be kickers (for example my high school teammate is the kicker for the University of Kentucky Wildcats). The ball may be different, but the kicking motion is the same.
Let's start off with a little bit of the mechanics of a kick.
Punting is all about repetition and synchronization. Punting the ball starts with repetition. The more times you kick the ball, the more your body will recognize that motion and become more natural doing it. Synchronization is important because it is a delicate balance between where the ball is released from your hand and where it hits the top of your foot.
When punting, you don't just drop the ball onto your foot and swing through. You hold the ball as long as you possible, until your foot just about comes to meet it (I've even kicked my hand with the ball still in my fingers a few times)(not fun). If you were to drop the ball really early, the ball is out of your control longer and will increase the chances of it moving slightly forward, backward, left or right and throwing off the direction of the ball off of your foot.
Now, we can go through kicking angles. The higher your foot is when it meets the ball, the higher the ball is going to go in the air. Based off of the angle of your foot to the ground, the ball will have the same initial velocity, but a different initial angle. So, since we talked about your foot meeting the ball in your hand, the way to adjust the height of the kick is by holding the ball higher or lower to the ground. Normally, you hold the ball at about waist height. For a higher kick, hold above the waist and for a lower kick, hold the ball below waist height. Kicking angle is not too difficult to adjust from kick to kick. Experienced punters are able to adjust the height pretty easily by making a conscious effort to hold the ball at a certain height. So, that usually doesn't cause much problem.
Directional kicking is a little bit different. It takes lots and lots of kicking to be able to place the ball accurately. Repetition, repetition, repetition. This is the easiest and hardest part about kicking. In theory, it is very simple to kick the ball a certain direction. The way to kick in a direction is to point your plant foot in the direction of your kick. If you are right footed kicker, your left is the plant leg and on your final step, your toe will point in the direction your kick will go. It's really interesting to see how this works. As long as you aren't kicking the ball with your toe, that is.
In soccer, we were told that when you are defending someone, you watch their hips. If you watch the ball or their feet, you will get beaten, but if you watch their hips, you know exactly where to go. (It's the same in basketball, too.) Well, in the kicking game, your hips follow what your plant leg does. So, when you point your toe in the direction of your target, your hips will also point that direction, causing your kicking leg to swing that direction. That is how the ball goes through the uprights when a kicker kicks it.
So, we have the basics. Kick through to meet the ball in your hand so that it has less chance of changing the direction of your kick. Point your plant foot toe at the target.
So, where do shanks come from if kicking is that easy?
It's all in your head.
What keepers are taught (or should be taught) is that when you punt the ball, you never try too hard to kick the ball. When you put more effort into a kick, many times your leg will swing through it's motion faster than the rest of your body adjusts. Your head is saying "I really need to put some leg into this one." However, the best way to kick the ball is just relax and let it flow naturally (that is what all of that repetition was for). Your leg strength is what gives you distance. Trying extra hard to kick the ball is not.
So, why can't your whole body adjust when your brain wants to kick harder? Well, like I said before, punting is about repetition. If you kick at speed A during practice, your body is going to kick at speed A during a game. When you punt and your brain tells your leg to swing through faster because you wanna hit the ball harder, sometimes it doesn't tell your hand that. So, if you go to kick and your leg is going at a different speed than your body is used to, your hand may have not gotten the message and the synchronization may be thrown off. Your hand thinks your foot is at a certain spot in space (because that's where it always is in practice), but when it isn't, the ball could go who knows where.
During the Cincinnati game, Kurn's brain wanted his leg to swing faster so the ball would go farther (understandable, since this was a big situation in the game), but since his hand released the ball at the same time and place as it would during a normal kick, his leg was not in the same time or place and he shanked it.
It all comes down to experience. The more you are in a big game, the calmer you are. The more experience you have kicking the ball, the less you feel that you have to change your mechanics to make a big play. Kurn has the ability, the practice, the leg strength and the accuracy to be a good punter. The only problem is, you can't be as effective if you are trying to play outside of your own abilities.
Kicking is a mind game. I don't know that you can really punt as effectively with your job on the line. This may make him step up his game and punt better. Then again, the more pressure is put on a punter, the higher his chances are of thinking too much and having another possible shank.