I know you're probably sitting on the edge of your seat, anxiously awaiting the position review for our kickers, because as we've learned from our former head coach over the years, sometimes a punt is a good play. So, why wouldn't we wait with bated breath on the position review for one of the most important aspects of the game?
Despite the fact that it's humorous we would spend time reviewing the kickers when there are so many other positions of importance, one of the few bright spots in the Panthers' horrendous 2010 season was the fact that our three kickers -- John Kasay, Jason Baker, and Rhys Lloyd -- were able to do their jobs quite well for most of the year, and without their positive contributions the 2010 season would have been a lot harder to endure.
I'm sure some of you are thinking back to the missed field goal by Kasay that cost us a win against Cleveland. I'll readily admit it was a huge blunder on Kasay's part, but we all know that no one is perfect. Even with that missed field goal that prevented us from being 3-13 instead of 2-14, these three guys didn't make nearly as many mistakes in 2010 as some of our other players (cough...QB/OL...cough) and coaches (cough...Davidson...cough) made, and at one point in the season it was a common thought that Baker was the team's MVP* because of the fine work that he was doing by punting the ball deep and giving the defense some decent field position to work with. (Of course, it's not hard to believe that Baker performed so well, since he had plenty of opportunities in 2010 to perfect his craft thanks to our completely inept offense, but that's another story for another day.)
* - Side note: This is really telling of how terrible the Panthers were last season. How bad do you have to be if there is a legitimate argument for your punter as your MVP?
Let's take a closer look at each kicker and see how he performed in 2010, after the jump...
John Kasay -- K
FGM - 25 / FGA - 29 / FG % - 86.2 / XPM - 17 / XPA - 17 / XP % - 100
20-29 YDS - 9/9 (100%) / 30-39 YDS - 2/2 (100%) / 40-49 YDS - 11/14 (79%) / 50+ YDS - 3/4 (75%)
John Kasay had a typical John Kasay year in 2010, being deadly accurate within 40 yards but struggling slightly once the field goal attempt was beyond 40. Of his four misses, two were more than 45 yards (46, 51), and two were less than 45 yards (40, 42), but most Panthers fans remember the 42 yard miss more than the other three, as it came as time expired in a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to Cleveland on November 28.
Aside from that kick (and the 46-yarder he missed in the same game), the other two misses didn't factor much into the outcome of the games, as one came against Chicago in a 23-6 loss, and the other came against New Orleans in the 34-3 blowout.
Even though half the kicks he missed were in the same game and ended up costing the team a win, in the end it's really not that relevant because it would have only made the Panthers 3-13 instead of 2-14, and the Panthers would have still had the #1 overall pick in the draft (Denver was 4-12). With that being said, it's hard to be too critical of Kasay's 2010 season, as he did have the 10th best season in the NFL for kickers, and for a 2-14 team that's pretty good.
Jason Baker -- P
95 P / 4097 YDS / 3469 NET YDS / 7 TB / 22 IN-20 / 23.2% IN-20 / 1 TD / 0 BK / 9 YD AVG RET/ 36.5 NET YD AVG
Where would the 2010 Panthers have been if not for Jason Baker? The putrid offense allowed Baker to punt the ball 95 times in 2010 (That's 5.94 times per game, most in the NFL.) for 4,097 yards (3rd most in NFL). Baker's 95 punts where the 2nd most in his career (he had 98 punts in 2006), and 2010 was also the 2nd time in his career that he eclipsed the 4000 yard mark (also in 2006).
Baker was able to make it through the 2010 season without having any of his punts blocked, and he managed to force 7 touchbacks while allowing one punt to be returned for a touchdown. However, he would have had two kicks returned for touchdowns had it not been for his epic sweeping arm tackle in Seattle. (Of course, it didn't really matter, because the defense gave up the touchdown anyway.) Opposing returners averaged 9 yards per return, giving Baker a 36.5 net yards per punt (all of this isn't on Baker, though, because our Special Teams unit did forget how to tackle from time to time). Baker was able to pin the opponent inside the 20 yard line 22 times in 2010 (or 23.2% of the time), which did help the defense by putting the opposing offense on a long field.
John Fox always liked to say that "sometimes, a punt is a good play". In 2010 this philosophy played out on the field, because most of the time when Baker punted the ball away after yet another patented Jeff Davidson 3 and out, it gave the Panthers a positive result. That's not something that we can say about many of our Panthers from 2010, and even if he is the punter, it still has to count for something.
Rhys Lloyd -- KOS
53 KO / 3523 YDS / 1 OOB / 66.5 AVG / 11 TB / 20.8 TB% / 40 RET / 24.9 AVG RET YDS / 0 TD / 3 OSK / 0 OSKR
If you watched the first game of the season against the, then you realized just how important Rhys Lloyd was to this team. In a cost-cutting move during the offseason, Lloyd was not offered a contract. Instead, the Panthers decided to sign a guy who was working at a smoothie shop because he couldn't get a job kicking for a professional football team. Needless to say, the move didn't work out as planned, and by Week 2 Lloyd was back on the roster.
Lloyd handled all but 5 kickoffs in 2010, and if you look at the numbers below, you'll see how much of an improvement he was over the alternative.
5 KO / 288 YDS / 0 OOB / 57.6 AVG / 0 TB / 0.0 TB % / 5 RET / 13.4 AVG RET YDS* / 0 TD / 0 OSK / 0 OSKR
* - Note: The average return yards would be 16.75 if not for a muffed catch for no gain.
Lloyd kicked the ball an average of 10 yards further than the Smoothie King and Kasay did (granted, 5 kicks is a small sample size), and unlike the other two, Lloyd was able to kick the ball into the end zone on occasion. However, the Special Teams unit didn't help him out much by allowing a higher return average. The 24.9 average yards per return allowed was among the worst in the league, but Lloyd was 10th in the league in touchback percentage, so it's not completely his fault that his kickoffs were returned for so many yards. Lloyd gave the special teams unit a chance to pin opponents close to the 20, but poor tackling and bad routes to the return man negated Lloyd's efforts for the most part. C'est la vie.
The one down side to Lloyd's production is that it's pretty much obsolete since the NFL has changed the kickoff rules. Now that the ball will be placed at the 35 yard line instead of the 30, there's no reason that Jason Baker can't handle kickoff duties, eliminating the need for a kickoff specialist on the roster. (Hopefully that roster spot can be used to carry an extra receiver, offensive/defensive lineman, or defensive back.)
As I said in the opening, our kickers in 2010 were one of the few bright spots to our terrible season. We probably won't see Rhys Lloyd in a Panthers uniform this year, unless he magically learned how to kick 60 yard field goals with accuracy, but I see no reason to believe that Kasay and Baker won't be back. Hopefully they can both bring even better production in 2011 (and hopefully Baker's leg can relax this coming season by not having to punt 95 times again), because for us to have a competitive year we're going to need production in all facets of the game, even in the kicking game.