PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles had spent a lot of time evaluating Alex Henery before the 2011 draft.
They sent then-special teams coach Bobby April out to Lincoln to work out the Nebraska kicker, joining several other NFL teams to do so. But only the Eagles sat down with Henery upon their visit.
Sometime around April's visit, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman called Henery pretending to be a graduate assistant. He asked what Henery about his ability to lead, questions the kicker thought were odd at the time.
It wasn't until the day the Eagles drafted Henery in the fourth round that Roseman revealed that he was the one on the other end of that call. The Eagles knew Henery could kick and even that he could make clutch ones in college. But the NFL and kicking in Philadelphia are on another level.
Nearing the end of his third season with the Eagles, who host the Bears on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, Henery has yet to attempt what would be considered a game-winning field goal. He has been accurate enough, but there is still a feeling that he has yet to prove himself as reliable overall kicker.
Last week in Minnesota, the Eagles had Henery kick short of returner Cordarrelle Patterson apparently not confident that he could consistently boom touchbacks. While they succeeded in not allowing Patterson to return, they gave the Vikings an average starting position at the 33.6-yard line on five Henery kickoffs.
"He's the most dynamic returner in the NFL statistically," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said of Patterson as he explained his decision to pooch and squib kick short. "You have to get the ball out of the end zone if he's not going to return it."
The Eagles face another test against the Bears. Devin Hester (28.6-yard average) doesn't quite have Patterson's numbers (33.3-yard avg.), but he has five career kick returns for touchdowns, not to mention 13 on punt returns.
Henery said that teams have taken various approaches to kicking off to Hester. It's probably safe to say the Eagles won't squib kick. The Vikings were able start drives at their own 38 and 46 after Henery grounded two kicks.
But mortar kicks -- designed to drop over the first line of defense -- were more successful with an average starting position at the 28. Kelly may just allow Henery to kick away, too. He's 19th in the league in touchbacks with 33, but his percentage of touchbacks (44 pct.) is the best of his career.
"This is going to sound weird, but I think my kickoffs have been better this year than they have the last two years," Henery said when asked where he thought he had improved most. "Field goals -- my numbers haven't been as good as the last two."
Henery has made 80.8 percent of his field goal attempts this season (21 of 26), missing from 46, 48, 46, 60 and 39. He's made seven straight, including a season- and career-high 51-yard yarder against the Vikings.
"I feel like I'm coming around, hitting the ball well," Henery said. "I had two bad games in a row. I was out of rhythm. It happens to everyone."
Indeed, the fortunes of a kicker can change with the winds they fight on a weekly basis. And Henery hasn't yet hit the kind of cold stretch that gets teams working out other kickers. But his percentage of field goals made is 23d in the league and he's attempted less than half beyond 50 yards (2) than the average of the top 22 (4.4).
"I feel like so much plays into it -- the situation of the games, who you are playing," Henery said. "Some teams that don't score points will attempt longer ones because they know three points are going to be big."
Henery attempted only three field goals beyond 50 yards in his first two seasons. He made one. The Eagles' patience with Henery could be tested in the offseason. They didn't bring another kicker into this past camp, although they had a rookie punter to push Donnie Jones.
Kelly cited the 90-man roster limit as reason for not carrying another kicker, but the Eagles went with fewer than 90 multiple times throughout camp and the preseason.
A fourth-round pick is quite the investment for a kicker. Fourteen kickers have been drafted in the fourth round or earlier since 1991 and half have been to at least one Pro Bowl.
It's hard to say how much competition the Eagles had for Henery. He said his agent said during the draft there were multiple teams interested in selecting him around the fourth or fifth round.
Only one other kicker was drafted that year -- the Falcons took Matt Bosher in the sixth round and used him as a punter.
Wolff, Boykin probable
After missing four games with a knee sprain, safety Earl Wolff was listed as probable on the Eagles' Friday injury report. The rookie is expected to start ahead of Patrick Chung.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin, who suffered a concussion against the Vikings, returned to practice on Thursday and was also probable. He will play in his usual spot in the slot, but may not return kicks. Brad Smith and Damaris Johnson are other options.
Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) were listed as out. The Eagles signed Keelan Johnson off the practice squad on Tuesday, anticipating the short numbers at safety.
(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services