As Olindo Mare watches his field goal attempt sail through the uprights he wonders: Why can't they all go through like that? (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
It’s time for the 2012 Carolina Panthers player preview that you’ve all been anxiously waiting for: the kickers. Now, now - settle down. There’s no need to get all hyped up like a 10 year old who just stumbled upon daddy’s secret stash of dirty magazines (not that I know anything about that), because we are just talking about kickers here. They’re the guys who are only on the team because it’s required to have someone do it, and teams don’t want to risk anyone of moderate importance getting hurt while performing the kickers' various duties. (Duties that include, but are not limited to: organizing team sleep-overs, making sure there’s plenty of milk and cookies in the communal refrigerator, and ensuring that none of the ball boys steal anyone’s Pokemon cards from their lockers during practice.)
Anyway, enough with the nonsense. Let’s talk about kickers, shall we? Why don't you join me after the jump as we take a look at the four guys who are currently on the roster and discover with me who will be left standing when the final whistle sounds and it's time for the season to begin?
We all know how 2011 went. We all remember the two games when Olindo Mare shanked the chance to win right out of our grasp with his untimely misses of easy field goals that even Ray Finkle (aka Lieutenant Einhorn) could have made with the laces in. We still haven’t forgotten, and we still haven’t stopped saying that John Kasay would have made those field goals and it was a crying shame that we cut him in favor of the clearly inferior Mare. (We really should stop saying that last one though, because cutting Kasay was a smart move. It’s the signing Mare part that was the bummer.)
On a serious note, we do have to recognize that even though Mare was unquestionably inaccurate at the worst possible times last year, it’s not that he can’t kick field goals at all. He just can’t kick them when the game’s on the line and he’s facing the horrific weather conditions of a calm Charlotte afternoon in early October (eat your heart out Packers fans - Lambeau ain’t got nothing on The Bank). He’s a career 81% kicker whose best years were in Miami from 2000-2001, and Seattle in 2009 (Jim Mora call-out notwithstanding). So why did he stink so bad in 2011? No one knows for sure, but we do know he wasn’t very good, and he wasn’t his normal self. Hopefully he will find the challenge of competing for his job in training camp to be the fix he needs to get back on track, because we can’t afford to leave points on the table like we did last season as Rivera continues to build the defense with spare parts from San Diego.
I know what you’re thinking. "So Mare’s going to compete for his job, you say? Who is he going to compete with?" Enter Justin Medlock into the equation. Medlock is that guy who is a fantastic kicker, but just doesn’t have the...umm...the I don’t know what you’d call it but let’s just give it a name and call it "toes" to be an NFL kicker. So, he went to the Canadian Football League and lit it up y’all. I mean, dude was straight kicking some field goals. (One report estimated his field goal count to be over nine thousand, but no one knows for sure how many he kicked. For accuracy's sake, let's just say "a lot more than Mare did".) He kicked enough for the Panthers to notice, and when they noticed they said "Hey! This kid can actually put it between the uprights, let’s give him a shot!"
So he’s on the team to bring some competition into training camp. Now, I know you’re like me and you’re on the edge of your seat, and you can’t wait to see this intense training camp battle play out. I know also that like me, you're saying "May the best man win." Don’t be surprised when that man is Mare, though. This whole Medlock thing is just a way for Rivera to call him out without going all Jim Mora on him and calling him out with words. I guess you could call it inspiration if you really wanted to. Rivera’s just giving him a wake up call here. The only people who believe Medlock has a real shot at making the team are Medlock’s family and friends.
Because we’re supposed to give percentages and other math-stuff for each player’s chance to make the roster I’d say right now that Mare has about a 90% chance to make the final roster, simply because his salary is so high that it wouldn’t make financial sense to cut him. (But don’t let that fool you. The Panthers have paid players lots of money to go away before. Here’s looking at you, Jake Delhomme.) Medlock has an 8% chance to make the roster. I know you’re wondering where the extra 2% comes in. Don’t worry, it’s there. There’s a 2% chance that neither Mare or Medlock make the roster, and we either bring in someone that wasn’t good enough to make one of the other 31 teams in the league, or we decide to say "Bump it, we’re rolling without a kicker and going for 2 every time."
Punter is a completely different story than kicker. We have already removed 2011’s punter from the roster, and have brought in two replacements who will duke it out in a Battle Royale style fight to the finish in Spartanburg to determine who has the right to give the ball back to the other team when the offense decides it’s tired of ramming it down the defense’s throat. My suggestion for the fight to the finish: Have each punter eat a full-course meal at The Beacon, and then have them run a 5 mile track through downtown Spartanburg as they’re being chased by a crowd of tween girls that have been told one of them holds an autographed picture of that sparkly kid from Twilight in his boxers. First one to the finish line wins. (Or, the one who doesn’t end up covered in his own bile on the streets of Sparkle City wins - either way works just fine.)
If you go back through the archives (or if you take the lazy route and click here) you’ll see that I’ve already covered in great detail what rookie punter Brad Nortman brings to the table. You’ll also see that he’s competing with veteran punter Nick Harris to give Nortman some competition (and veteran advice - stuff like "Don't kick it to Devin Hester!") during training camp. The job is Nortman’s to lose, and Harris will most likely be gone by the end of the 3rd preseason game.
I’m not going to re-hash Nortman’s stats (mainly because I’m too lazy to fiddle with making the chart - that shiznit’s hard y’all), but you can see them if you go back and click that link I gave you to my previous article on Nortman. He’s a good punter, and he should be a great fit for this team even though we (hopefully) won’t need a punter that much in 2012 anyway. But, Nortman should be there for the few times a week we do need one, and I don’t think he’ll screw up too badly when the team needs him to pin an opponent deep. (Or whatever else he's asked to do, though I can't think of too many things they'd ask the punter to handle, but I digress)
More math stuff: Nortman has a 95% chance of making the roster, and Harris has a 3% chance of making the team. That other 2% covers the chance that Todd Sauerbrun will come out of retirement. It’s probably not going to happen because we won’t be able to detox him in time to make camp, but anything’s possible.
All jokes aside: our kicker/punter situation is going to be just fine. I trust Rivera to know what he’s doing because he’s yet to give me a real reason not to, and I believe Mare will return to his career norm of only missing kicks that he really had no chance to make anyway, and we won’t see a complete meltdown from him in 2012. We have to remember: he’s a career 81% kicker (and Kasay is only a career 82% kicker for those who care), and he shouldn’t be as bad as he was last year. But if he is, have no fear - we still have that superstar from the CFL who can step right in and fill the void.
Of course, it shouldn’t matter that much who our kicker is going into this season, because this year we’re going to turn those ill-fated FG attempts into touchdowns anyway. Or so we hope.
Well, that's all for this edition of "BW's insanely over-attentive look at the Panthers kickers". Be sure to stay tuned for any future updates to the kicker section of the Panthers 53 man roster, because if anything changes you know it will be covered here in excruciatingly close detail (and you know you'll be thankful for it).