EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 28, 2006

Opening struggle won't slow Gostkowski

By Hector Longo

FOXBORO - Steve Gostkowski is a man on an island. His own little, chunked-up, sandy-based, painted green hunk of terra firma.

And this poor rookie has to kick an oblate spheroid filled with air through a pair of uprights 10 feet off the ground with much of New England hanging on every Sunday afternoon boot.

"I've been warned," said Gostkowski, the rookie out of Memphis drafted to replace legend Adam Vinatieri.

After a perfect preseason and making his first two pro field goal attempts, Gostkowski has had his last two attempts blocked. The second came Sunday night at home against Denver, in which the sand-based Gillette Stadium pitch clearly was factored.

"You've got to be able to adjust and know going out there that's what it's going to be like," said Gostkowski. "Everything's got to be controlled, and I've been a little out of control with my form. I have to tighten that up this week."

Gostkowski's confidence, at least through three games and two blocks, wavers little.

"You kick hundreds of balls during the week, go out there making 90 percent of them during the week, then you get one shot in the game and mess it up. That's not a good feeling," said Gostkowski. "You can tell right when you hit it. It kind of feels like working on a term paper all week and right before you're about to turn it in, your computer crashes and you forgot to save it. That's the feeling I have."

Gostkowski's next big kicking term paper could come due as soon as Sunday (4:15 p.m.) in Cincinnati.

Points are at a premium against a team as explosive as the Bengals. Gostkowski stands with several major hurdles ahead.

First is the fact that the last two kicks were judged to be low. And as holder Josh Miller says, the opposition sees it, too, and will "be licking its chops."

The second is being sure that the kicks are straight and true.

"It's got to get over the (defensive) line for it to go in," said Gostkowski. "That's a pretty important part of the equation. Have to work on it, get better, there's not much I can say.

"Get over it, get better. Not too much thinking going on here, just getting better for the Cincy game."

While he can take some satisfaction in the fact that his kickoffs and the coverage have sparkled so far, it's not as if it will help on his next 45-yarder.

"It's not my job (to help). My job is to get myself ready to play," said special teams captain Larry Izzo. "Having said that, he's going to be fine. I don't know anything about kicking. All I can do is offer encouragement, like telling him to forget the last one, worry about the next one. We may need it."

Gostkowski walks through the locker room like a man who's already turned the corner. He's got one of the game's most reliable snappers and holders in Lonnie Paxton and Josh Miller, respectively, standing firmly in his corner.

"This kid is super," said Miller. "He doesn't care. He's a rookie saying he's going to shine, no matter what. I don't think he's affected at all.

Next door, nothing but success

Gostkowski's best friend in the locker room might be Miller, the man next door. Tough for Miller to commiserate with Gostkowski, with the numbers he's put up early, though.

Miller sits in eighth right now at 46.2 yards a kick in the gross yardage category, but leads the entire NFL with a 43.2-yard net.