When the Denver Broncos released Connor Barth, all doubt was removed that Brandon McManus would be given another chance to kick some field goals for Peyton Manning and that offense. Watching training camp it became clear to observers that the two kickers appeared to be evenly matched on accuracy, but it was the leg strength on kick-offs that ultimately led John Elway and Gary Kubiak to roll with McManus in 2015.
Kubiak hammered that point home when asked what separated the two kickers, saying, "Obviously, kicking off. That’s the biggest thing. If we’re going to find a way to do this with two (kickers) and not with three, then somebody’s got to have a dual role or be able to do both one way or another for us to get that done. I also think Brandon has kicked extremely well. He’s been very consistent. Today, it looked like he was very consistent today in what he was doing. It’s us showing confidence in him and it’s up to him to in turn do his job and do a great job. We have a lot of confidence in him."
What changed from early last year to now that sparked the Denver Broncos to offer McManus the starting job again after his own teammates expressed so much on-the-field frustration during his struggles last season?
Two Words: Jab Step.
McManus spoke a lot about dropping the jab step and attributed its removal from his motion as the biggest thing he did to help win him the job, saying, "When I hit that 70-yarder two weeks ago, it kind of gave me the opportunity to remove the jab step that I wanted to do when I was in New York. Then once I traded here, I didn’t want to switch it up in the middle of the season. It kind of gave me a chance to remove that because of how tall I am at 6-4. If I take that jab step, I could end up with a huge plant foot and could really spray the ball a lot, accuracy wise. I was able to remove that last year and kind of at the back end of the last season I was able to work on it in practice. I wasn’t getting the team reps, but I was able to work on my new stance and had a full offseason to work on kickoffs, just directional stuff. That’s what my focus is on this year."
If you are like me, you are probably sitting here asking "what the heck is a jab step?" Well, I took to the Internets and found myself a book written by Ray Guy and Rick Sang called Football Kicking and Punting to find out.
A few chapters in, I get to chapter called Placekicking Fundamentals and there I learned the jargon for the two-and-a-half-step approach that Brandon McManus was using. Due to his height, which he mentions, the jab step caused him to come up on the ball in an inconsistent manner. By dropping this jab step and advancing through to the drive step and plant (called the two-step approach) he was able to improve his accuracy greatly.
There, now we get what a jab step is and why it negatively impacted McManus' entire motion of placekicking. And in the process, we probably just learned more about placekicking than we ever cared to learn. Or at least I did, anyway.
Fortunately for McManus, the transition to the two-step approach was fairly easy. When asked about how long it took to find accuracy with the new approach, he responded, "It happened pretty rapidly at the end of last year, when I was kicking field goals on the side. I wasn’t taking the team reps, but I was still able to see that I was much more under control when I’m swinging towards the ball instead of being as tall as I am. I could really get lengthy on my steps which, in our business, an inch will end up missing by 10 yards. I just wanted to get rid of that and make me a smooth as possible."
Quite a few of us in Broncos Country were lamenting Elway's decision to dump Matt Prater after another issue with alcoholism when McManus struggled so badly to open the 2014 season, but it appears McManus is looking to repeat Prater's own success after he too dropped the jab step from his approach several years ago. When asked who told him to remove it, he responded "I wanted to do it. When I was in Indianapolis and New York, they both said it would probably be beneficial for me. Even Matt Prater did it, I think two years before his record breaking season. It is successful and I think there are about 50 percent of kickers in the league that have the jab step still, and then 50 percent that don’t."
It's certainly good for McManus to be looking to achieve the kind of success Prater had in his time in Denver and it gives him another opportunity to erase the rough start he had in 2014. His first chance to do that came today when word came that Connor Barth was out and McManus was in. How did McManus respond to being named the starter? By going 12/12 on his field attempts that day.
As for Barth, he was snatched right back up by his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What do you think about McManus being the Broncos kicker in 2015?