Hold On A Second: More Than Your Average Placeholder
By John Baker
For 99.9 percent of football teams in America, the holder for kicks is a thankless task lacking the kind of passionate embrace most other football plays create. It's the afterthought play. The only time the world sits up and takes notice is when you botch the act of placing the ball on the ground nose first.
The job description is simple: Must be able to rest on one knee. Should be able to flex fingers at the butt of a 300-pound lineman whose head is upside looking at you between meaty thighs. Must be able to catch a spiral from about five yards away and in the moment, stick one point on the tee while keeping your index finger on the point at the other end. Then slap kicker on butt, wipe hands on towel and try never to bobble, drop, flummox or in any way impede the kicking game.
It's not a glamor spot by any means, but it's an important part of a team's ability to make field goals and extra points. And yeah, a bit benign.
Except at Oregon, where under the regime of Chip Kelly the holder took on a much broader role. He became a purveyor of plays, a man tasked with derring-doo and just a little bit of an edge. Why? Because Oregon has taken the extra point and created a whole new offense out of it. The Ducks will often line up in odd formations for extra points and at that moment, the holder becomes the field general, deciding whether to run, pass or simply settle for the single point. No football team in America takes the extra point to such extreme lengths.
That's why it's fairly important news that fourth-string quarterback Dustin Haines has officially been named the team's holder, following in the talented footsteps of Nate Costa and, for the last two years, punter Jackson Rice. Both his predecessors had the opportunity to run and pass the ball regularly from the kicking formation, which lifts the job of holder from the ordinary to the vital. Rice was 3-of-5 passing a year ago in extra point formations, connecting with kicker Rob Beard twice. All-American Dion Jordan also got in on the act, catching a conversion try and running one in behind the "swinging gate" formation.
Haines, who was put on scholarship this year, has been in the system a long time and is not devoid of skills. Both facts should enable him to be the kind of threat Oregon's holders have been in the past. Additionally, coach Steve Greatwood, who handles the kicking units, said Haines is a quality decision-maker, a requirement for the Oregon holder.
It's just another headache Oregon provides to its opponents. Now its Haines who gets to administer the pain.
Much like their love of going for it on fourth down, the Ducks have found that going for two and making it on extra point tries gives them another psychological feather in their cap. So they attack an aspect of the game that other teams go about performing with the joy of oatmeal. Now it falls to Haines to essentially run the extra-point offense. In his hands will be the key decisions as to whether to go for it, and if so, what kind of play they will run.
Once again, Oregon's extra-point tries will go from the boring to the sublime. And Haines will be in the middle of it.