Charlie Weis admitted that he was hoping junior Ryan Burkhart would beat out sophomore Brandon Walker for the kicking job this week. Weis and special teams coach Brian Polian thought that it might be best for Walker to sit a week and then get another week with the bye, but that is not how it worked out.
“We tried to give Ryan every opportunity with the inconsistencies that we’ve had with Brandon to be the guy, but at the end of the day after giving Ryan every kick on Tuesday and giving Brandon every kick on Wednesday, it wasn’t close,” Weis said. “If the competition would have been even close, Ryan would be kicking.
“I went into this week thinking with the intent that it would be in Brandon’s best interest if Brandon wasn’t the kicker and that Ryan would be the kicker. But you still have to go by what you see, you still have to be objective.”
Both coaches said that Walker and Burkhart were the only kickers involved in the competition, but if the area continues to be a concern that could change.
“Will we ever entertain somebody out of the student body? I don’t know if we’re there yet,” said Polian. “I wouldn’t rule anything out, we’d be silly to do that, but we’re not there yet.”
Walker made six of his eight field goals in practice on Wednesday and then converted all eight of his kicks on Thursday. Walker, Polian said, was visibly excited on Thursday and the staff was impressed with the way that he continued to compete even with his struggles.
“There’s an obstacle here that this young man is going to have to overcome. I have faith in him, I believe that Coach Weis has faith in him,” said Polian. “You would expect somebody who is going through the adversity that this young man is going through to shy away on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and he stepped up and did a heck of a job. Now that being said, it’s got to translate. We understand that. He understands that.”
Walker needs to start converting his field goals on Saturdays and the staff spent more time talking about his head than his leg.
“Kicking in practice has not been an issue or else we would have gone in another direction before,” said Weis. “This week we’ve been spending a lot of time on psyche because it’s not leg strength, it’s not where you’re not capable. It looks like we’ve made some ground and hopefully it pays off.”
Both Weis and Polian were involved in discussing things with Walker and encouraged him to talk with any of his past kicking gurus. Former Irish kicker Nick Setta is now a kicker with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats where Polian’s brother Dennis is on the staff. Setta sent down word through Polian’s brother to tell everyone to relax.
“Get word back to these guys to take a breath,” said Polian, relaying Setta’s message. “I’ve been through a rough stretch at Notre Dame, I know what it’s like. Tell everybody to take a deep breath and just go back to basics and it’s going to be alright.”
Weis said that he would not be afraid to send Walker out there for a field goal attempt against the Tar Heels if he believes that it is in his range.
“I’d give the kid a chance to kick the field goal,” he said. “I think that if you get to that 40-plus yardage area I might be more inclined in that area to go ahead and go for it. But I think if it’s a very makeable distance, I’d put him out there.”
With Walker winning the placekicking job, Burkart returns to his duties as the kickoff guy. That will be no easy task either as the Tar Heels boast a pair of fine returners in Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate. The presence of two dangerous returners makes it impossible to kick away from both.
“You’ve got to handle it a bunch of different ways,” Polian said. “The other guy back there 88 is no walk in the park either. You've just got to be flexible with how you approach it and try to be unpredictable.”
Weis also said that he was unsure whether or not tight end Will Yeatman would travel. Also, Weis said that knee surgery was not on the horizon especially after talking to Tom Brady, who told his former coach it’s a six to eight-month rehab with the first month on crutches.
“That’s not in the foreseeable future now,” Weis said.