DAVIE, Fla. (CBSMiami) – It’s one of the least glamorous positions on the team, but the lonely kicker is often the difference between the sweet taste of victory and of bitter defeat.
The Dolphins kicking job had been manned by Dan Carpenter for the last few years, but when the team drafted Caleb Sturgis, the veteran wasn’t long for the job. It didn’t help Carpenter’s cause that he was owed more than $3 million this season.
Sturgis beat out Carpenter and was the only place-kicker in training camp Thursday, but he wasn’t about to gloat.
“There’s no celebrating this,” said Sturgis, a fifth-round draft pick from Florida. “Every day you come out here and need to get better, because there are a lot of people who want to be in the position you’re in.”
Sturgis’ job is only to replace the 2009 Pro Bowler and was popular with teammates, especially long snapper John Denney and punter Brandon Fields, who doubled as Carpenter’s holder. The trio had been together since Carpenter’s rookie season in 2008.
“It’s just a fact of the business that this is going to happen,” Fields said. “It’s going to happen to everybody. Sooner or later you’re going to get off the train, whether you’re kicked off or you leave of your own accord. So you have to know it going into it and be professional about it.”
The rookie made coach Joe Philbin’s easier with a strong performance in Friday’s exhibition game at Jacksonville, when he made a 58-yard field goal and sent all six of his kickoffs into the end zone.
Sturgis wasn’t doing much celebrating then, either.
“I liked his demeanor on the sideline during the game,” Philbin said. “He was very professional. He wasn’t jumping up and down. He just did his job well. He’s very serious about what he’s doing.”
The timing of the decision, Philbin said, was best for both players. It gives Carpenter more time to land a spot with another team before the season, and it means Sturgis will do all the kicking in the three remaining exhibition games.
“The more game-like situations he can get in, the better,” Philbin said.
Sturgis had plenty of big-game experience at Florida, where he was a four-year letterman and kicked a school-record 70 field goals in 88 tries. He doesn’t anticipate the pressure of performing in the NFL to be much more intense.
“Kicking a ball is kicking a ball,” he said. “As long as that’s what you focus on, there’s not a big difference.”
His first kicking coach was former Florida State kicker Dan Mowrey, who is remembered for Wide Right II, a missed field goal on the final play of the Seminoles’ 19-16 loss to Miami in 1992. Mowrey quickly saw Sturgis’ potential as a kicker.
“He told me it’s something I could do — at least get my education paid for,” Sturgis said. “That’s all I really wanted to take it up for at that point.”
Now he’ll earn a paycheck. To help keep him humble, Sturgis was lugging Fields’ helmet and shoulder pads after practice, in keeping with NFL hazing traditions.
“I’m still a rookie,” Sturgis said.