Week 1 of the NFL season has concluded, and for the New Orleans Saints, it ended with a 16-15 victory over the Tennessee Titans. With that close of a game, special teams were extremely critical to their success, especially considering both their kicker and punter are rookies making their NFL debuts. In this article, we will take a look at the film from week 1 and take a look at both Lou Hedley and Blake Grupe and how they did in this performance on punts and field goals respectively. So, without further ado, we go to Blake Grupe.
Blake Grupe - 3/3 on field goals
1st quarter - 10:18 - The first kick of Blake Grupe’s regular season NFL career was a relative chip-shot, a 26-yarder for the rookie. Overall, the whole process went smoothly which was great to see with a new holder (Lou Hedley) and obviously a new kicker. Grupe sent this kick right down the middle with no questions of power or accuracy, as you would hope.
Zach Wood actually did a good job with this play as well, as he was able to spin the ball to where Hedley did not have to rotate it whatsoever, rather just plant it. There were no issues with the placement of the laces either, with Hedley keeping them away from Grupe (the optimal scenario as it reduces the variability of a kick).
2nd quarter - 7:37 - The second kick of the day for Grupe was not much longer than the prior, coming in at 33 yards. This was another standard procedure for everyone involved. Zach Wood sent in a good snap, Hedley made a good adjustment to get the laces away, and Grupe put it right down the middle. There was a little more side-to-side movement in this kick compared to the last one, which would likely be an attribute of it just being a longer kick with a slightly odd angle (they were lined up to the left slightly, so he was kicking back right).
3rd quarter - 9:25 - The final field goal for Grupe in week 1 was easily the most impressive and simply put, the best. He was asked to line up for a 52-yarder in his rookie debut, which takes a lot of nerve even in a home environment. The snap was slightly high but nothing out of control, and Lou Hedley did a good job managing it and getting it to the ground quickly with the laces out. Grupe did what we all hoped he would in this case, sinking it from 50+. The ball started off slightly to the right but came back towards the center of the posts near the end and had enough juice to clear the crossbar with no question.
3rd quarter - 1:23 - Grupe’s final kick of the day was his PAT in the third quarter, Zach Wood made a slight error on this snap, putting it to the right of where Hedley needed it, but Lou was able to adjust quickly, grab it, and put it down where Grupe needed it. You can see this kick go slightly left and the ball was not as end over end as you would hope, which was likely the product of this slightly off snap adjusting the timing. Regardless, Grupe drained it with no question and put the Saints up 16-9.
Overall, a great debut for Blake Grupe, making all of his kicks with very little question about either his power or accuracy. Great stuff.
Lou Hedley - 5 punts for 241 yards
1st quarter - 1:30 - Next up we have Lou Hedley, who was also exceptional in his regular-season debut. His first kick of the day was absolutely flying down the field, as the announcers called it a “knuckleball” (somewhat unpredictable flight and erratic with high speed). Hedley made the punt from the Saints’ 15-yard line, and absolutely ripped it to the Titans’ 26-yard line before the returner could even adjust to it. The punt then bounced once and went out of bounds at the 23-yard line, which was pretty impressive given his starting field position to make the punt. A 51-yarder to start off his day is absolutely perfect considering how it bounced.
2nd quarter - 11:55 - Hedley’s second punt of the day came in the second quarter, in which he punted it on the Saints’ 25-yard line. This one was extremely quick as well, and you can see the low angle it takes in favor of speed and unpredictability. The returner fields it at the Tennessee 12-yard line, and you can see how much the returner has to adjust in this period to try and keep his eyes and hands under the ball. D’Marco Jackson and Taysom Hill make the tackle at the TEN 23-yard line, making the quick play and leaving no room for error. A 52-yarder for Lou Hedley which was returned for 11.
2nd quarter - 4:40 - This punt we saw a little more airtime, as you can see Hedley really got under it and sent it upwards rather than outwards. Hedley punted it from the NO 33-yard line, and it was returned at the TEN 18. Lonnie Johnson Jr. missed the tackle on this one that would have stopped the returner dead in his tracks, however, the return was stopped at the TEN 30 by D’Marco Jackson. Overall, a great punt, 49 yards this time, it just needed to be better played by the gunners was all.
3rd quarter - 4:46 - Lonnie Johnson Jr. got his revenge for the last punt on this play. Hedley punted from the NO 44 and sent it all the way down to the TEN 11 where the returner fielded it. The returner was immediately cracked by Lonnie Johnson Jr. and did not gain a single yard in the return process. This was one of the most electric plays of the game no doubt and pinned Tennessee within their own 15-yard line during a tie game (9-9).
4th quarter - 6:51 - The final punt of the day for Hedley was another quality one, sending it from the NO 43-yard line to the TEN 13 (44 yards), which was phenomenal. However, the returner was able to take it pretty much untouched for a 14-yard gain to the 27 before being tackled by Isaac Yiadom. This was somewhat the story of the day for Hedley, as he had four punts go inside the 20-yard line, however, three of those were returned beyond the 20. Ensuring the ball goes out of bounds will definitely be a point of emphasis as Hedley develops over the course of the season, but in all honesty. his punts were exceptional otherwise. All-in-all a great day for both special teams rookies.