In 2012, The Chargers Don't Want To Be Kicking Themselves


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!

August 3, 2012

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3 comments:

RaiderHater said... Aug 3, 2012, 8:59:00 AM

> Ya know, this is a position many of us ignore...we pay so little attention to it, we generally think of the kicker as a loner and barely an athlete to some. BUT, this is a huge and vital position in football!!!! They kick the extra points...it is usually automatic but stuff happens. Kick offs can dictate the entire games tone. More importantly, they are brought in many many many times in a year to hopefully make a kick sometimes half the length of the field to add a score or even win the game because the entire Offense couldn't get to the E-Zone. I would love to find a stat on how many games a kicker won a game for a Team in the NFL as an average...it has to be a fairly decent number. Now, we say a kicker is not a real football player (bone crusher, super speedster, passing fool, catcher of the un-catchables,etc...) but there are only 32 that make it in the NFL, that is one freakin' hard job to land! And they are put under the kind of pressure in game situations that must be beyond most of our comprehension. If you are the guy that can give the WIN for your Team that day-that moment and hit it - you are the MAN of the Game...but if you miss it - you are the only reason they lost. How about when it is your kick that can decide if your Team goes to a playoff, a Championship game or wins the Super Bowl. Oh and the other Team "ices" you for a few extra moments and you know every Defensive player wants your head on their trophy wall this play....that is pressure.
So who do we pick...Damn ...my opinion is while I love Kaeding's accuracy, I can recall more than a couple critical playoff games (remember when we used to play in those) that he choked. I like Novak's leg strength but he has also missed because of his accuracy issue. I am holding out to see how preseason plays out...but I think we are lucky to have both kickers of this caliber playing for us and trying to earn a job. Not a bad problem to have!!!
RaiderHater

Pete Spinning said... Aug 3, 2012, 1:18:00 PM

Spot On, RaiderHater... and great article Anthony! This is one area I have heard little about, and am really torn on (No pun intended... torn... ACL... get it? Yeah I'm a dork). I have to ask, "Is Nate Kaeding healthy, or not, dang it?!!!". Can someone please let us know? I haven't seen many reports about how his re-hab went. Granted, he was hurt on the first play of the season, so he had plenty of time to heal.. but, it's an ACL injury, and he's a friggin' kicker! Is he going to be the same? If he doesn't return to his normal accurate self, then he is going to have a hard time convincing me that he is the guy for the job.... ex-pro bowler, or not. If he is just a little bit better than Novak, I say go with the guy who doesn't look like a deer in the headlights in crunch situations. I have a hard time believing that they will go with Novak, actually. Kaeding is one of the oldest players on the team, and is very respected by management. It would take a pretty big meltdown in camp for them to go with Novak. Either that, or there would have to be an obvious difference in the strength of his leg, or there would have to be a major concern that he may re-injure his leg somehow. One more question... sometimes the kicker is the last line of defense when a player is breaking a kick-return for a TD... can, and will, Nate Kaeding try to stop a possible touchdown if he needs to? That's how he got injured in the first place, and he is already saying he might have flashbacks... do we feel comfortable putting in a kicker that probably won't even attempt to stop a TD return? The coaches will probably tell him not to try... which is like having one less guy on the field on kickoffs. How many times have you seen a TD stopped because a kicker managed to at least push the returner out of bounds? Quite a few. The last thing we need is a repeat of the special teams situation from a few years ago, where teams were routinely taking it to the house on us.

RaiderHater said... Aug 3, 2012, 2:47:00 PM

> Ha Ha Pete's a Dork - he said it!!! But really, I would agree that Nate may be gun shy a LOT, he is not only going to recall what happened last time he thought he was Linebacker, but he is also getting old so hummmm!? The preseason will be the test, camp is OK but really no real pressure situations to be put into like a real game to test one's ability. I am worried Nate will have lost some strength thanks to the injury, which means shorter balls (ha, he said short balls). Accuracy is very important but today's breed of kicker can nail that pig 50+ yards all the time! It will be interesting...as I said, I am not picking yet...but to know you are a Dork - Ha ha that's cool!!!
RaiderHater

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