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Harrison Butker defends Tommy Townsend amid holder controversy

A former Kansas City punter has made the team’s placekicking woes a major story.

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In Sunday’s 30-24 overtime victory against the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs placekicker Harrison Butker missed an extra point and a final-minute 51-yard field goal attempt. In an injury-shortened campaign, Butker has now missed five field goals and three extra point attempts over ten games.

Former Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt — first on Twitter and then on local sports radio — has blamed his successor for Butker’s struggles. Colquitt — who spent 15 seasons as Kansas City’s punter and holder — insists that third-year punter Tommy Townsend’s holds are the reason for the placekicker’s inconsistency.

In the locker room before Tuesday’s practice, Butker attempted to put the issue of his holder to rest. He credited Townsend — as well as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, special teams coordinator Dave Toub and long snapper James Winchester — for collaborative work in the midst of middling results.

“Dustin — he’s a big Chiefs fan,” he said of his former teammate. “He obviously has given a lot to the whole community here — and I respect the heck out of him. I’m just trying to be the best kicker I possibly can be. All the guys here — James, Tommy, Coach Toub, Coach Reid — they’re all the ones that are pushing us to be our best. And we’re listening to all those guys and trying to improve every day.”

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Butker reiterated he is happy with the job his current holder is doing.

“James and Tommy do a great job,” he declared, “and I’ve got to finish it and get the ball through the uprights. I’ve been happy with all the effort and all the work those guys have been putting in. At the end of the day? If the ball’s on the ground, it’s got to go through.”

In his remarks, Reid simply dismissed his former player’s notion that an issue with holds is going unaddressed.

“We look at everything,” he said of the situation. “I’m not going to get into it, but there’s nothing that gets by us. We’ve got to get through this. They all take responsibility between the three of them. We’ll get it worked out.”

Criticism from a former player does not carry extra weight for the head coach.

“[Colquitt has] a big personality,” observed Reid. “He loves to put his opinion out there. I don’t worry about all of that. We do our thing. We study all that stuff. Everybody’s got an opinion. I don’t worry at all.”

Colquitt’s thesis, in short, is that Townsend’s holds consistently leave the laces of the football in the wrong position. Butker downplayed the issue entirely.

“One thing I’ve worked on the past couple of years,” he said, “is just looking right under the ball so I’m not noticing the spinning laces — if there are any spinning laces — because I can’t control that. And I like to think that no matter where the laces are, I should still be able to hit a straight ball.

“That’s one thing Tommy and I have been working on throughout our time together: just some drills where Tommy is putting the balls down and he’s spinning it. So I have to get better at just kicking the ball starting at basically the ground below the ball so that I’m not even noticing a spinning ball.

“I think a lot of times kickers maybe give too much credit to balls where the laces are off — or the lean or whatever it may be. I just take the approach of, ‘I can do better. I can fix that.’ I should be able to hit any ball through the uprights.”

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The downside to dismissing Colquitt’s claims, however, is that if the holds are not the problem, then what is the issue? Citing ample distance, Butker did not blame lingering pain from his Week 1 injury.

“I’ve got plenty of distance on the field goals,” he claimed. “I’ve just got to keep working to make sure they go through.”

Both Butker and Reid cautioned against making sweeping changes to fix the problem in December.

“You’ve got to trust the process,” explained Butker. “You can’t just throw everything out the window and try to do something new.

“A big reason why a ball doesn’t go through — or why it does go right down the middle — is just a small little tweak; a small little change. That’s the hard part about kicking. You’ve got to find what that small change is— and make it and come through.”

Reid expects the player to rise above his recent struggles.

“You get into a little bit of a funk,” he observed, “and that ball looks small. All of the sudden, you work through that and it looks big again. And you start hitting it better. That’s where we’re at. We’re working through it. [I] still have a ton of trust in the process. We just have to work through it.”

Butker knows how to work through accuracy issues because he has done it before. He cited a stretch of missed extra points as evidence that the situation can improve.

“I know in 2020, I was missing all those extra points,” he recalled. “One of the things that helped me was not overanalyzing everything, because you can get yourself where you’re just trying to change way too much — and you’re hurting yourself.

“You’ve got to go back to the drawing board — always — if something’s off. And you’ve got to come back better. That’s what I’m doing. I’m working my butt off.”

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