Zach Hocker gets it.
Three days after he missed a 30-yard field goal that would have made him the hero against Dallas instead of C.J. Spiller, the Saints brought in three kickers to try out, taking a look in case Hocker falters again.
Hocker knew something like that might be coming. Last December, Hocker was one of the kickers coming in to try out after a few ill-timed misses by Shayne Graham.
“I understand the business,” Hocker said. “I was one of those guys last year that when guys struggled, I was bouncing around the country doing the exact same thing. Before this whole thing started, this was my job to keep and my job to lose.”
New Orleans brought in three veterans — former Texan Randy Bullock, former Redskin Kai Forbath and former Buccaneer Kyle Brindza — to work out Wednesday, and Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear Hocker has to earn back some trust.
“Obviously, we get into a position like we did the other night, we’ve got to be able to make that type of field goal,” Payton said. “If not, then someone else is going to have a chance to.”
Hocker spent enough time last season in their shoes that he already knew that for most kickers there’s a thin line between a regular starting role and the same never-ending schedule of flights he traveled last year.
Even after the Saints told Hocker he would be their kicker, the first-year kicker told reporters he knew it was his job to keep it.
But Hocker doesn’t feel like he’s walking around on egg shells.
“The second you start thinking that way, you’re going to be in trouble,” Hocker said.
The miss came as something of a surprise.
When Hocker trotted onto the field for what would have been the game-winning kick, he’d already knocked through two kicks, including a 51-yarder, and launched an impressive 43-yard punt after a strained quad sidelined Saints punter Thomas Morstead.
He had all the momentum he needed. The kick simply didn’t go through the uprights, bouncing off the left post and back into the end zone.
“I had a great game all the way up until the very last kick,” Hocker said. “It wasn’t a situation where I approached the field and felt nervous to make the kick. I could feel the energy from the guys on the sideline, I felt good about it. It’s just one that came off the foot and wasn’t meant to go in.”
A fan could be seen on the NBC broadcast behind the uprights during Hocker’s kick, exposing his stomach and waving a flag.
Hocker never saw that. He doesn’t see much of anything other than the football when he kicks.
“In that situation, you don’t even know that anyone’s watching, your adrenaline is pumping so much,” Hocker said. “When you approach the field, everything goes silent and you kind of focus in.”
Hocker wasn’t the only member of the field-goal team who drew Payton’s attention this week.
In the moments after the game, Payton said he wanted to take a hard look at all three phases of the kick, from snap to hold to kick, citing mistakes in each phase that have cost the Saints on three kicks this year. Hocker is 7-of-9 on field goals of this season, but he’s also missed an extra point that was blocked and seen a hold dropped against Carolina.
“Dresch (long snapper Justin Drescher) and I have to do our part of being spot-on and giving Zach the best opportunity to make the kicks,” holder Luke McCown said. “That’s good timing, good snap, good hold, laces open, giving him the best opportunity to approach the ball confidently.”
New Orleans hasn’t taken any extra field goals in practice this week.
But there has been a closer look at everything.
“We just need to clean it up,” Drescher said.
Ultimately, the bulk of the accolades or blame will fall on Hocker, the first-year kicker trying to establish himself as a player in the league for years to come.
His next chance to prove himself comes on Sunday against Philadelphia, and he’ll be handling kickoffs as well, provided that punter Thomas Morstead doesn’t make a surprising return from injury.
The miss hasn’t affected his preparation.
“This week, we bounced back,” Hocker said. “Didn’t miss this week. Had a great week of practice, and I still have a ton of confidence going into this next game.”