August 12, 2010 9:44:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Possibly the most tightly-contested position on Mississippi State''s football team this preseason is at kicker, where two seniors with a lot in common are trying to gain an edge for the No. 1 job.
Derek DePasquale and Sean Brauchle are junior college transfers who each started six games last season and experienced success.
Their similarities don''t stop there.
Both were perfect on extra points and were close in accuracy as DePasquale missed two field goals to Brauchle''s three. Neither recorded a touchback, and their respective season-long field goals are separated by just a yard.
One year later, the parallels are growing.
The competition at kicker is something Dan Mullen doesn''t mind, especially after replacing both specialists in his first season as MSU''s head coach.
What was once an area of concern is now one of the more solid positions on the team. DePasquale and Brauchle are neck-and-neck nearly two weeks into fall camp with the more consistent kicker likely to get the starting nod.
But if Mississippi State played this weekend, Mullen would be just as comfortable starting either kicker.
Combined, DePasquale and Brauchle connected at a 72 percent clip and nailed the most field goals (16) this decade since Brent Smith made 16 of 20 in 2002.
"It''s pretty dead-even, which is where you want it to be," Mullen said. "When your number two is just as good as your number one, we''re in good shape."
The position fight, however, will be ramped up as the Bulldogs move closer to their Sept. 4 season opener against Memphis, Mullen said.
The competition at this point isn''t so much about kicking under simulated pressure situations, but more about consistency in each phase of the kicking game. Mullen used Brauchle''s "pop" in field goals and short-distance kicks and Wednesday''s morning session, where DePasquale was registering kickoffs with a 3.8 second average hang time and touchback distance as examples of the back-and-forth nature of the race.
"As practice gets harder and harder, you get more tired, but if you can still perform under the circumstances of being worn out from two-a-days, that''s what they want to see," Brauchle said. "You''ve got to have that consistency through the hard times."
For Brauchle, he''s just happy to be healthy after having surgery last season to repair a torn hip flexor. The injury and layoff for Brauchle was also DePasquale''s ticket to playing time and he took advantage of the chance. DePasquale nailed 10-of-12 field goals, including a season-best 48-yarder against Ole Miss. His 80 percent conversion rate is the team''s highest since 2000.
The split in playing time caused by Brauchle''s injury provided both the chance to kick in pressure situations and gain experience kicking in the raucous venues of the Southeastern Conference, but it''s also fueling Brauchle''s drive to reclaim a position.
"That was the first time I''d ever been injured in anything," Brauchle said. "I didn''t know how to take it. You want it to heal up so fast, but then again you can''t push yourself too much. It was just frustrating, having to pace myself and just watch Derek kick every game over the last six games.
"That, and it''s my last go around. It''s my last year, so if I don''t put in hard practices, I can''t expect to kick."
There''s no angst from Brauchle toward DePasquale or Mullen for technically losing his starting job due to injury. Brauchle''s got a daily reminder of just how close the race is, and vice-versa for his senior counterpart. Like any other position, competition will bring out the best in players, which is true of the kicking game, DePasquale said.
"At practice, we''re just feeding off each other," DePasquale said. "Today, (Brauchle) was hitting his kickoffs probably three or four yards further than mine, and I was trying to get mine higher than his. Everything we''re doing, we''re competing. With field goals, if he misses his or I miss mine, it gives us motivation to make the next one.
"It''s a daily competition and every day has been really tight."
What could separate the two, or perhaps provide split reps in games, is kickoff production. Brauchle averaged 6 more yards per kick, though DePasquale had 16 more kickoffs.
However, leg strength isn''t a factor, in adding more distance and hang time to kickoffs. Mechanics, consistency and power generated from leg speed are the most important factors and areas in which both have seen improvement, DePasquale said.
"My field goals since high school haven''t gotten further, but the kickoffs may have due to repetition," he said. "Kicking is all leg speed and technique, and you have to kick the ball in the right spot to make it do anything. You could squat 700 pounds, but if you don''t have leg speed and hit the right spot on the ball, you won''t do much. You have to have the right leg swing, too.
"It''s way more technique than leg strength."
n Bulldogs practice indoors: With on-field temperatures hovering around 108 degrees at practice time on Wednesday afternoon, Mullen worked his squad inside the climate-controlled Palmeiro Center for the second practice of the day. The Bulldogs began the day with a full-pad practice on South Farm.
Following a similar routine to Monday, Mississippi State worked primarily on the running game in the morning session before focusing on the passing game in half pads in the afternoon.
"We got some good work done today," Mullen said. "We''re starting to see some of our guys developing quite a bit, which is what you want to see this time of year."
The defense continued to practice with a great deal of enthusiasm, but the offense proved to be steady in red zone drills during both practices.
The Bulldogs return to a once-daily practice schedule today as they continue working toward the season kickoff against Memphis on Sept. 4.
-- The Mississippi State sports information office contributed to this story.
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