AP Sports Writer
POSTED: 07:04 p.m. HST, Feb 28, 2013
Lauren Silberman has scant chance at making the NFL.
Silberman never kicked anything more than a soccer ball in an organized game and she just started practicing long-range field goals.
Even so, the first female kicker scheduled to try out at an NFL regional scouting combine would like to see where her new hobby will take her. In an era where Danica Patrick can contend against men in motor sports, Silberman is about to take a big kick forward for female athletes, even if the odds are clearly stacked against her. The 28-year-old Silberman will kick Sunday at the New York Jets' training facility in Florham Park, N.J.
"I am working hard to prepare but I am also realistic about my chances," she wrote in an email. "I hope my willingness to put myself out there inspires others to seize opportunities and challenges. The support from around the world has been so heartening."
Her goal for the weekend is a true long shot: perfect 60-yard field goals.
Odds are, though, that scouts will want to see her connect on extra points and chip-shot field goals with some consistency before moving on to the heavy kicking.
Silberman will compete against more accomplished or polished college kickers, all hoping to prove they have the leg strength and accuracy worthy of earning an invite to an NFL training camp. St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein participated in a regional combine last year before he was drafted and morphed into "Legatron."
Cincinnati Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons said teams look for several things specifically when judging kickers in these situations. The most important is leg strength, followed by accuracy on field goals over 40 yards, and how they did on clutch kicks in college.
"When rating field goals, the deepest we test at the combine is a 50-yard field goal. There's not many attempts over 55 yards. We don't practice kicks much deeper than that — rarely do we do them," Simmons said. "You can tell after watching a 50-yard field goal how far the ball goes over the crossbar if they can hit from 55. They've got to be able to hit from 55. On kickoffs, they've got to be able to get the ball out of the back of the end zone."
Silberman won't be kicking against the best of the sure-footed prospects, but there will be talent on hand regardless. The regional combines debuted in 2011, and feature players who weren't among the 333 invited to the main combine in Indianapolis. So no first-round picks are likely to show; only potential, hidden, undrafted gems or late-round risks. The league is holding these sessions in 10 cities this offseason, with the most impressive players advancing to a super-regional in April in Dallas. It's sort of the sports version of a TV reality show, where each hit and tackle can wow a scout and move a player on to the next round. Only instead of a recording contract, it's an NFL one.
"It's all up to those guys. If you're talented enough, you're going to get recognized. And if you put up good numbers, the numbers don't lie," said Doug Whaley, assistant general manager/director of player personnel for the Buffalo Bills. "That's one of the things about the combine part of this business. It's the least subjective part of the business. And it's really objective, because you're looking at numbers."
Silberman hasn't treated the tryout like a publicity stunt. But Silberman, whose NFL.com bio listed her as a former club soccer player at Wisconsin, seems to understand what she's up against. More likely, she wanted to use the weekend as an opportunity to promote greater diversity in football.
Silberman also can use this opportunity as a steppingstone to other ventures. Public speaking, perhaps, or even some sports marketing.
"The real upside is if she reaches the next level," said Steve Rosner, a partner with 16W Marketing in New Jersey. "Kickers, in general, aren't brands. Very rare. Even someone like Adam Vinatieri, who (has won) Super Bowls, would have to do a little more than kick to capitalize and endorse at the national level. The one thing she has that they don't have is that she's a woman. The uniqueness of her and the possible success she has will differentiate what she has at that position."
While a female has never played in the NFL, if the gender breakthrough did happen, it most likely would be at kicker.
Females have kicked or tried out for a roster spot in the college ranks for years. Just last season, former LSU women's soccer goalkeeper Mo Isom tried out as a Tigers placekicker. In 2003, Katie Hnida became the first woman to kick for an NCAA Division I-A football team, scoring in one game for the University of New Mexico.
Hnida, who later kicked for the Fort Wayne Firehawks of the Continental Indoor Football League, was surprised a player with no true kicking background would be scouted at a combine.
"I thought it would be an athlete who has come through the ranks of playing football for a long time," she said. "It is so different kicking in a live situation, too, dealing with the timing of the snap, having guys rushing at you. That's where you separate the good from the great."
Sean Landeta, a Super Bowl champion and considered one of the NFL's great punters, gave Silberman credit for competing, one way or the other.
"I think it's courageous on her part in trying this, and certainly groundbreaking if she could prove her skills are good enough to play in the NFL," he said. "What a team's policy would be as far entertaining the thought in signing a female, that's still debatable. No one knows that answer. ... I give her points for giving it a shot. She's obviously following her dream."
Forget game-on-the-line playoff pressure, Silberman will instead kick in front of low-level scouts. They, like the players themselves, are trying to move up the ranks.
"In terms of regional combines, we usually send one younger pro and college scout," Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "And then, (at the) super-regional, we send a bunch of higher level scouts."
Agent Rob Roche represents four kickers, including Baltimore's Justin Tucker. He said from an agent's perspective, finding the right situation for a young kicker is most important, because there's only 32 jobs available. Teams, after all, tend to stick with a kicker when they feel they can trust him, rather than bringing in someone younger with limited NFL experience. Roche said kickers who lack experience at the major-college level face daunting odds.
"To come out and start kicking and you've never kicked in college," he said, "you don't know how a player is going to react under pressure when the game's on the line and you're kicking in Denver in the snow and it's overtime."
Silberman plans to prove she's up for the task.
AP sports writers John Wawrow, Rob Maaddi, Joe Kay and freelancer Joseph Santoliquito contributed to this report.