The last time New Orleans Saints fans saw a healthy Wil Lutz on the field was Jan. 3, 2021 — Lutz hit two field goals in a 33-7 win over the Carolina Panthers in a game in which Drew Brees threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
After missing all of last season, Lutz continues to work back from a core muscle injury in preparation for the upcoming campaign.
"The biggest challenge was kind of understanding the recovery side of coming off an injury like this," Lutz said last week. "I feel strong, I feel explosive. I feel like I'm hitting the ball better than I've ever hit it."
The six-year veteran said the most frustrating part of his injury was the mental battle involved.
"It was just frustrating when you go through an injury like that, when you think you're healed and you're not and you think you're healed then you're not," Lutz said. "I never knew when I was healed, and that was the hard part."
Fighting that mental battle meant having to go through the roadblocks of Lutz's mind regarding the injury. He said he realized that just because something was sore, that didn't mean he was hurt again. Punter Blake Gillikin said Lutz's body isn't a limitation anymore, and now it's just a matter of his mental fortitude getting back to where it was, which he said will happen quickly.
"Now that I've kind of worked through that and I've been able to produce like I was before the injury, I've got no concerns moving forward." Lutz said.
While Lutz adjusts back to the grind of training camp, Gillikin adjusts to having him by his side. The punter said he expected to be holding for Lutz last season, and it was difficult for him to not have that veteran presence behind him.
"Just to get him back practicing with us and being able to learn from him and just go through different things together, it has been everything I thought it would be and more," Gilikin said.
Lutz's core injury, similar to a sports hernia, is something that a couple kickers deal with every year. While his injury was more severe and required multiple surgeries, the former Georgia State Panther said he called a few of the players to pick their brains about their mental and physical approach to recovery.
Coach Dennis Allen said Lutz may not be where he was before the injury yet, but he's close.
"I do think he's kicked the ball well, particularly on field-goal attempts," Allen said. "I like his progression and where he's at. He's just got to keep doing what he's doing out there."
While he's unsure if he will kick in the preseason or not (the team also has John Parker Romo on the roster), Lutz said it's extremely important that he's able to work with Gillikin and long snapper Zach Wood.
"The most important thing for a kicker is to see kicks go through the uprights," Lutz said. "You can't get a year back of your career, so I missed out on a lot of time seeing kicks go through the uprights, and I think that's super important over the next six, eight weeks."
Entering year six together, Lutz said this is the best camp Wood has had. The duo had worked together for four seasons before Lutz missed 2021, which the kicker said is extremely important — having consistency among long snapper, holder and kicker can't be taken for granted.
"Blake's a great holder with any snapper, but with Zach it's pretty flawless," Lutz said. "It makes my job easy."
Lutz also pointed out how meticulous snapping is, saying a centimeter rotation could have the laces turn out a completely different way. Getting into a rhythm with the snapper and holder is crucial for success, which Lutz said hurt the rotation of kickers who played for New Orleans last season.
"I think every kicker we had in here had a good resume, they're talented guys," Lutz said.
The Saints went through four kickers besides Lutz last year: Brett Maher, Aldrick Rojas, Cody Parkey and Brian Johnson. That amount of turnover and inconsistency showed in the results, as New Orleans finished 20th in the league in field-goal percentage (83.3 percent) and tied for 23rd in field goals made (25). The return of Lutz, whose 86.6 percent field-goal percentage ranks seventh all time among kickers with at least 25 attempts, should steady the ship. Lutz said the best kicking operations around the league have been together for multiple years.
"You're talking about a snap, hold, kick in 1.28 seconds," Lutz said. "So much can go wrong in 1.28 seconds."
As training camp continues and the team rolls on into the preseason, Lutz feels good about where his operation and his health are at moving forward.
"Everything happens for a reason," Lutz said. "I'm ready to roll."
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