Originally posted on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 8/22/12

 

The Panthers were downright awful on special teams last season. Consequently, head coach Ron Rivera has made it a priority to get better in this crucial phase of the game in 2012. In addition to shoring up special teams coverage, the Panthers have created an open competition at the kicker and punter positions.

Last year, Panthers kicker Olindo Mare connected on just 22 of 28 (78.6 pct.) field goal attempts – tied for 24th (Minnesota) in the NFL.  Mare, who is entering his 16th NFL season, missed three kicks inside 40 yards, including a crucial 31-yard chip shot that cost the team a win against the Vikings. His season-long field goal was just 45 yards – last in the NFL.

 

Punter Jason Baker, who was released back in March, was equally bad. Last season, his gross (42.7 yards) and net (34.1 yards) punting averages ranked 29th and 32nd, respectively, in the NFL.

It doesn’t take a seasoned coach to figure out that these numbers are completely unacceptable. So, the Panthers have decided to shake things up on special teams by creating somewhat of a “rookie vs. veteran” positional battle.

In March, the Panthers signed Justin Medlock to challenge Mare at kicker. Medlock, who’s more than a decade Mare’s junior, was drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, but played just one regular-season game before being released. After bouncing around NFL practice squads, the former UCLA All-American eventually landed in the Canadian Football League, where he was named an All-Star in 2011.

After releasing Jason Baker, the Panthers used their sixth-round draft pick on Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman. Just when it looked like Nortman, 22, was a lock to be the punter in Carolina, the team signed 34-year-old veteran Nick Harris to challenge the rookie.

So far, each position battle is very close. Ron Rivera has indicated that the coaches are continuing to evaluate the situation.

Both Medlock and Mare have been perfect kicking field goals through the Panthers’ first two preseason games. Although Medlock, who has connected on attempts of 49, 43 and 48 yards, has shown a stronger leg, Mare has been better on kickoffs. While Mare has recorded touchbacks in five of six kickoffs, Medlock has yet to tally a single one in five tries, one of which was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Houston’s Trindon Holliday in the preseason opener.

Similar to the kicker competition, the punting battle between Nortman and Harris has revealed two players with two different strengths. Based off a small sample size of just five punts each, Nortman has shown the stronger leg, averaging 48.9 yards per punt as opposed to just 41.9 yards for Harris. However, while the rookie has failed to pin the opponent inside the 20-yard line, his precise veteran counterpart has accomplished that twice. 

Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.

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