The San Diego Chargers hope to have solved many issues on their roster from a season ago, but the kicking position isn’t one of them. That quandary has yet to be resolved after two-time Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding went down on the opening kickoff last year with a torn ACL. Nick Novak stepped in and performed admirably in Kaeding’s absence, but as to which kicker the Bolts choose to keep in 2012, that question remains to be answered.
Novak was outstanding replacing Kaeding in 2011 converting on 27 of his 34 attempts including a career long 53-yarder. He also set a franchise record making 11 field goals of 40 yard or more in one year which shows just how strong of a leg he possesses.
On the other side, Kaeding has been one of the league’s most accurate kickers since being drafted hitting 173 of 200 career attempts. He has been particularly effective in short-range situations making 76 of his last 77 tries from 40 yards or less. Still his struggles in the postseason are what make fans nervous about welcoming him back with open arms given Novak’s fight and desire shown a season ago.
That competitive drive is what has allowed Novak to make it in the league since being passed over in the 2005 NFL Draft. According to him: “I have always had to prove myself. I have had that chip, had that edge. I wasn't drafted. That's fine. I am going to go out and prove every day to instill that confidence into the coaches, into my teammates. For me that has been the fun of it. The most enjoyable part of competing is the competition.”
The Chargers say that there is an open competition between the two kickers to earn the starting job in 2012. Novak seems to buy into that notion saying: “It's an honest competition. From what we are told, this is an open competition and we are getting equal reps and everything is equal across the board as far as the opportunities that we are given. If it weren't that way, it would be okay, but it wouldn't be an equal competition. At this point we are still getting equal reps.”
Most still peg Kaeding as the odds on favorite to win the job during camp and ultimately emerge as the club’s kicker for the upcoming season. It’s those lingering questions about nerves and postseason difficulties that may force the organization to avoid making a hasty decision.
Kaeding’s playoff résumé includes just three makes out of nine career attempts. The most memorable of those struggles occurred following the 2009 season when he missed three attempts during a Divisional playoff game with the New York Jets when the game was hanging in the balance. Of those kicks, two of the three came from 40 yards or less where Kaeding was considered pretty much automatic. This debacle followed what has been his best year as a pro to date when he made 32 of 35 attempts in the regular season.
It’s the fractured psyche and apparent lack of confidence in the clutch that has to make the Bolts at least consider moving on from Kaeding even though he entered 2011 as the best regular season kicker of all-time by percentage. Novak may not be the obvious upgrade that teams would hope for in replacing an All-Pro caliber kicker, but his confidence and determination make him an appealing option for team management.
Hearing Kaeding’s side of things will be interesting as camp progresses. If he can adopt Novak’s attitude, the team would have to be thrilled to welcome him back as their kicker. Novak said: “I have no idea what is going to happen. All I can do is focus on one kick at a time and make the most of all the opportunities that I have.”
When Kaeding spoke to the team’s website, he said: “I do have a little bit of nerves. There’s going to be some anxious moments during the first few preseason games, especially when I get back there to kick-off again. I’m sure there will be some flashbacks to last season, but it’s all part of the process of what this month is all about. It’s why we do the practices and have the games before the season starts up. At my position you’ve got to be tough and push through these adverse situations. Certainly I’ve had one thrown my way this past year. And now I’m here at the last step, and I’m looking forward to getting the ship righted and get going in the right direction. I’m still confident in what I do. I’m a field goal kicker. It’s what I’ve devoted my whole adult life to so far. When I’m out there on the field, I know I can put that ball through those uprights.”
That belief and determination will be critical to erasing the memories of seasons past when Kaeding’s leg betrayed both he and Bolts fans. 2012 is a new year and the Chargers will find the right man for the job through what promises to be an exciting competition in camp.
Now it’s your turn. Only one real question here, who do you think should be the kicker for the Chargers when 2012 opens up: Kaeding or Novak? What makes you confident that your choice will fare better than the other possibility? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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