Remember way back in June when one of the biggest question marks facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in training camp was the inconsistent state of their kicking game?
Well, flash forward 12 games into the 2013 regular season and guess what -- those same questions are still being asked about the Bombers kicking game.
About all that has changed is the volume of the questioners, who ratcheted it up a couple notches this week after a poor performance by punter Mike Renaud and placekicker Sandro DeAngelis played a decisive role in Winnipeg's heart-wrenching 35-27 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field last Friday.
A DeAngelis miss on a 35-yard field goal with just 2:33 remaining in the game was the very worst of an already bad night for the Bombers' kicking game. But Renaud's failure to place his punts and win field position for his team during the Edmonton game also did not escape criticism from head coach Tim Burke, who singled out the poor play of both kickers after Friday's loss and again Wednesday.
"I think (the kicking) got better, and now it's kind of tailed off again," Burke said Wednesday. "For Sandro, he's working on some technique issues that developed over the last couple weeks...
"And Mike, I think, he was trying to drive the ball into the wind the last game. And it's just a matter of, you know, just kick it away -- don't worry about the wind."
Though it's speculative at this point, the facts are that the DeAngelis missed field goal would have given Winnipeg a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter of a game that ultimately finished tied in regulation and had to be decided in overtime.
That made Burke's revelation Wednesday that DeAngelis is battling a technique issue -- apparently he's been leaning too far forward at the point of contact -- more than a bit troubling this late in the season.
It bears reminding, after all, that Justin Palardy, the Bombers placekicker DeAngelis replaced midway through this season, did not have the strongest leg in the world but was money inside the 40 on exactly the kind of field goal DeAngelis missed last Friday, so much so that Palardy is the co-owner of the single-season Bombers franchise field-goal accuracy record.
All of which demanded an answer from Burke on Friday: Any regrets getting rid of Palardy? "When you make a change, you hope for the best," Burke said. "And I'm sure Sandro will be better."
Which is the same thing DeAngelis says, citing "rust" from not playing a full season as the underlying reason for his miss last week. "There's a reason why you have pre-season and training camp," said DeAngelis, who was looking for work when the Bombers signed him in August as a free agent.
"I'd make the analogy it's like a golfer going to the driving range and deciding he wants to win the Masters and British Open.
"You've got to play the rounds. And unfortunately, there's not too many mulligans they give you in the regular season."
For his part, Renaud said he's still trying to figure out the often confusing swirling winds created by the below-ground-level playing surface at Investors Group Field.
But more than that, Renaud says he just has to be better at placing his punts and getting the hang time necessary to let his cover team get downfield, something he really struggled with Friday on a night when too many of his punts were line drives.
"I think I've been doing some good things this season, but I've got to do a better job of cutting down on my mistakes," said Renaud, who is third in the league with a 45-yard punting average but is also unfortunately tied for the league lead in singles with 9.
Bombers special teams coach Craig Dickenson didn't try to paper over the failures of his kickers last week, but said Wednesday the Bombers' kicking game is undeniably better today than at the start of the year.
"We're going to have games where we don't play as well as we want to, and last week was one of those games for Sandro and Mike," Dickenson said. "But we think like in the big picture of things, we're definitely getting better and we're not going to over-react to one or two bad games."