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Photo finish for Nugent as Pettrey focuses

Posted Nov 18, 2010


Aaron Pettrey

It is one of the worst moments of his life. But Mike Nugent would love to have the picture if anyone took it.

He didn’t realize it until long after his knee was shredded. But when he finally he saw the television replay of last Sunday’s heartbreak in Indianapolis, he was struck by how tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive end Frostee Rucker yanked his 186 pounds straight off the ground like a file folder and carried him to the sidelines with his leg dangling limply.

“To think my teammates would do something like that, what a great feeling,” Nugent said despite the pain of a season-ending ACL tear. “And Frostee wasn’t even on the field when it happened. My girlfriend’s father saw it and said it reminded him of the picture where (Y.A. Tittle) was on his knees on the sidelines all bloodied. He said, ‘Talk about a picture saying 1,000 words.’ ”

Here’s another 1,000 words with one image. Aaron Pettrey, Nugent’s emergency replacement, is spending the week getting ready to attend his first NFL regular-season game. It also happens to be his first as an NFL kicker after four seasons he followed Nugent at Ohio State.

“The great thing about kicking at Ohio State is the importance they put on special teams,” Nugent said. “It’s a reason they’re so successful at it. It’s a big part of the program. Plus, when you play there you’re used to playing in front of a lot of people in big, tight games. I think it will carry him a long way.”

Pettrey’s first pro task is to make sure that Leodis McKelvin doesn’t go a long way in a rivalry that has spun on the axis of special teams in Darrin Simmons’ eight seasons coaching the Bengals specialists. The last time Cincinnati and Buffalo played in 2007, Rian Lindell’s four field goals were the margin of victory in the Bills 33-21 home victory, offsetting Glenn Holt’s 100-yard kick return that was the second longest in Bengals history.

In the clubs’ last two games at Paul Brown Stadium, Bills cornerback Terrence McGee’s 99-yard kick return ignited a 37-27 victory in 2005 and a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown in 2004 split a 7-7 game into a 33-17 Bills win.

Lindell is still kicking and McGee is still playing cornerback, but he no longer has to return even with rookie C.J. Spiller on the shelf. In McKelvin’s rookie year of 2008, he immediately set the Bills record for kick return yards in a season but a broken leg early last season and the drafting of Spiller put him on the backburner. But now with Buffalo's top kick returner out, as well as its top punt returner (wide receiver Roscoe Parrish is gone for the year), McKelvin can ease into both and make them just as dangerous.

Plus, Bruce DeHaven, one of the NFL’s top special teams coaches, is back in Buffalo after his legendary run with the Bills from 1987-99 yielded four Super Bowl berths, a seven-time Pro Bowler in Steve Tasker, and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in Steve Christie. He already has overseen Spiller’s 95-yard kick return for a touchdown.

“You can tell how well coached they are by how hard they play and these guys play hard,” Simmons said. “They lose Parrish and they lose Spiller and they’re not going to miss a beat with McKelvin. And their specialists are top of the line. Their punter (Brian Moorman, the 2000’s all-decade punter) is perennially one of the league leaders and the kicker has been around forever.”

So has Simmons, who has been able to dip into his rolodex this week and help Nugent. He gave him the phone numbers of John Kasay and Joe Nedney, top kickers who have come back from ACL injuries.

“They both had some awesome ideas,” Nugent said. “They said you get out of it only what you put into it. Kind of a you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of thing. You have to do rehab every day. You can’t let it slide. I’m 100 percent sure I can really do it. What you have to do is push yourself. They say when you come back from something like this, your knee gets stronger. The quad I ripped in ’08 is like that now.”

Nugent says his surgery is in the next two to three weeks and there have been several time frames tossed at him. Most of them are four to six months; some are as high as eight depending on the procedure. With a year left on his deal, he’ll be rehabbing around the club.

“I want to get back to swinging the leg as soon as possible,” Nugent said. “But I want to make sure it’s healed. I don’t want to come back too soon and put this team into jeopardy and get hurt during a game.”’

Nugent always knew that kickers are a special breed. Now he’s got about 15 or so text messages as proof.

“I’ve heard from guys from all over,” he said. “Ben Graham, the punter when I was in New York (Jets). Neil Rackers, Robbie Gould. Guys I’ve met down through the years. It’s awesome how they’ve reached out to see how I’m doing.”

Now the kickers have to make a defensive end and tight end honorary members.

“Let me know if you ever come across it,” Nugent said of a possible picture of the moment with Rucker and Gresham. “It’s not a happy memory, but what they did means a lot to me.”

 

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