Kicking It Up a Notch: The Battle of the Kickers Has Begun in Carolina
There are many battles taking place in Spartanburg, SC and one of the more interesting ones is the battle for the kicker spot. Currently, Olindo Mare is the returning starter but he has found himself battling the youngster Justin Medlock for a spot on the 53-man roster.
To better understand this battle, let's go back to last season. One of Ron Rivera's first moves was to remove the third kicker from the team to free it up for a another position. Because of this line of thinking, John Kasay was released. The Panthers would later sign Mare to be their kicker for 2011.
To be fair, Mare was not exactly given a warm reception by the Carolina faithful. After all, he was replacing the last original Panther and for a young team, that is huge. Kasay was clutch, but did not have the leg strength to handle kickoff duties, which prompted his departure. Mare was put in a tough spot and it would only get worse.
For starters, let's review the positive notes. Mare was able to make 44 extra points on 45 attempts, having his lone miss blocked. On kickoffs, he was able to do the job he was brought in to do; kick the ball deep and get the touchback. He had 84 kickoffs and 53 touchbacks to place second in the league.
The problem that tormented Mare during the regular season turned out to be field goals. He was 22 of 28 when he was called upon to get three points. Two of those misses were blocks. However, the most unsettling statistic was his inconsistency to score beyond the 30 yard line. He was 14 of 20 on field goal attempts of 30 yards or more. While Mare was missing field goals between the 30-39 yard lines (three), Kasay was a perfect 10 for 10 inside the same range. This only added to the fans' frustration with their new kicker.
Coach Rivera decided to help Mare get back on track and brought in Adi Kunalic to compete for the kicker spot. Mare was able to retain his spot and continue kicking for the remainder of the season but the message had been clear; he needed to start making his kicks or the Panthers would have no problem finding someone who could.
Fast forward to training camp 2012, which has Mare and Medlock competing for the lone kicking spot on the roster. Medlock was signed in March and thus far has caught the attention of many fans, some of whom would like to see him start over Mare.
Medlock is giving it his all and has been knocking down field goals with ease from the 50 yard range. It should be noted that Mare was 0 for 2 from that range last season. Coach Rivera said everyone on the roster would need to earn their spot and the word from camp is both of these kickers are not giving an inch to the other. It could be argued that Medlock is having the better camp.
Medlock is not a rookie having served brief stints with Detroit, Washington, St. Louis and Kansas City. His only game action came in 2007 with the Chiefs where he appeared in one game and kicked one field goal in two chances. He had spent a good portion of his career playing in the Canadian Football League (CFL).
While nothing is decided as of now, this battle will most likely come down to what each man can do in actual game situations. An ideal solution would have both Mare and Medlock called upon to kick a clutch field goal during the preseason, but that may never happen. Medlock has the youth but lacks the experience in the NFL, while Mare is a seasoned veteran, having kicked in the league for 16 years. It makes sense to some to have the younger guy doing well in his role to take the reigns, but with Coach Rivera, nothing is that simple.
Ultimately, this decision will be a difficult one for the Panthers staff to make, especially if both Mare and Medlock are neck and neck throughout the preseason. Essentially, the decision on who the Panthers' kicker is in 2012 could mean the difference between winning or losing the close games. Mare has the motivation to bounce back from a mediocre year, while Medlock is looking to establish his legacy and start a long, solid career in Panthers blue.
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