Atlanta’s Michael Koenen is the NFL’s first triple threat kicker in almost a quarter century.
In these days of linebackers who play only on passing downs, specialty running backs and assistant-to-the-assistant coaches, the Atlanta Falcons have gone refreshingly old school. If they need to put foot to football, whether it be a kick or a punt, they turn to one player.
That player is Michael Koenen, the NFL’s first kicker/punter/kickoff man since Frank Corral pulled triple duty for the Los Angeles Rams in 1981. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for Koenen (pronounced KAY-nen), a second-year player who handled all the kicking and punting for four seasons at Western Washington. He’s only the second player from that school to appear in a regular-season NFL game.
Koenen is part pioneer, part lab rat, a player who could cause other teams to rethink how many spots they devote to the kicking game on their 46-man active roster.
“It could,” he said, when asked whether that might become a league-wide trend. “That’s how they used to do it. I guess it depends on how this trial goes. But [the Falcons] are always looking for ways to win, always looking for ways to be better than other people.” But General Manager Rich McKay said the Falcons were not out to save a roster spot by reducing two jobs to one. “He earned both of them,” McKay said of Koenen.
Regardless, Atlanta is taking a roster risk by putting both responsibilities on the shoulders of one player. Then again, just about all of the league’s 32 franchises have gambled in one area or another, skimping at one position and overloading at another.
When I first started following the NFL passionately, with the 1979 season, the Dallas Cowboys used backup quarterback Danny White as their punter. The next year, with Roger Staubach’s retirement, White assumed the starting QB job and still kept punting duties, which he maintained through the 1984 season. Not only did that save the Cowboys a roster spot but it provided a few exciting moments, as White occasionally punted on 3rd and long to catch defenses by surprise and was much more apt to fake a punt on 4th down than any other punter.
Ironically, the 2006 Cowboys are going in the opposite direction, having three different kicking specialists on the roster owing to questions as to whether field goal kicker extraordinaire Mike Vanderjagt can reliably handle kickoff duties.
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