Over the next few days I'll be focusing on the five most important questions for the Carolina Panthers heading into training camp. Today is #5, our kicker.
If you're looking for a camp leg, you go out and bring in a UDFA or similar fringe player who will get you through a round of cuts, and little more. When you go out and sign a CFL All-Star, and a reliable kicker it sends a message that you're willing to make a change if needed. When it comes to Justin Medlock feel free to make all the Canadian Football League jokes you want, but last I checked their posts are just as upright in the North too.
Medlock's 2011 CFL statistics are pretty stunning-- 49/55, long of 57 yards, and he also punted the ball 119 times for an average of 41.9 yards. We won't be entertaining him as a punter, but Ron Rivera loves players with versatility. It wasn't just that Medlock booted 49 field goals last year, but that he did so in clutch situations. There were numerous occasions where he won games for the Hamilton Tiger Cats, including a game last October where he booted seven field goals from 19, 44, 42, 48, 47, 29 and 35 yards; these weren't all pooch kicks. Medlock was also the most accurate kicker past both 40 and 50 yards last year in the CFL, and he managed to hold an 89.1% accuracy rating while leading the league in average FG distance of 37.4 yards. In short: Don't sleep on Justin Medlock.
Then we have Olindo Mare. Where do we begin? We've looked ad naseum at his struggles, his up-and-down nature, and his inability to convert in clutch situations in 2011. Based on history he's due for a upswing, but do you really want to hang your hat on that? It wasn't just that Mare missed kicks, it's that he missed vital kicks. When it's all said and done you dont hear me complaining. After all, if the Panthers finish 8-8 last year they're still missing the playoffs, and drafting five spots later, which causes them to miss out on Luke Kuechly. However, that lackluster performance won't slide in 2012.
More after the jump
Obviously the kicker is important, but I have a sense it will finally be de-emphasized for the Carolina Panthers. John Fox's offensive sensibilities required an extremely reliable kicker because every point in a slow, methodical, grinding offense was vital. While Rivera obviously doesn't want to be adding 'wide right' to his weekly vocabulary, his team is also built to score in bunches, which removed the dire need for those three points.
It will be fascinating to see the split of reps at kicker between Mare and Medlock. If you're looking for a bold predicition then here it is: The Carolina Panthers will use some of their remaining cap space to eat the remaining $3 million guaranteed on his deal, cutting him in favor of Justin Medlock.
Medlock is reliable, has the leg, and is ten years younger than Olindo Mare. Based on the decision to part cut Jason Baker in favor of rookie Brad Nortman it's clear than Rivera has no problems making a change if someone was lacking. 2012 wasn't a good draft for kickers, which is why the Panthers waited-- but as I said when we signed him, don't sleep on Justin Medlock. I think he's poised to surprise.