As we wind down the hours now until the Saints' first practice of the 2012 season, we're finishing up our series of 20 Saints questions.
The questions are in no particular order of importance…except for No. 1.
2. What do the Saints do at place kicker in 2012?
In March 2011, just before the NFL and its players went their separate ways for five months, the New Orleans Saints signed kicker Garrett Hartley to a long-term, $10.3 million contract.
And then in August, the kicker injured himself on a routine kick, an extra point that proved anything but routine.
So in came veteran kicker John Kasay, a 41-year-old veteran whom the Carolina Panthers believed was past his prime.
All Kasay did for the Saints was finish with the most points he has ever had. His 34 field goals was 10th-most in the NFL and tied for third-most in his career.
He went 28-for-34 in his first year with the Saints, including 2 of 5 from 50-plus yards. The Saints rewarded his consistency this offseason with another contract.
The question now is what the Saints do with the position. Carrying an extra kicker isn’t out of the ordinary for New Orleans. But it is a luxury, one most teams can’t afford.
This preseason will go a long way. Hartley is still the Saints’ kicker of the future. He’s younger and, in spite of Kasay’s long-range ability last season, Hartley has the stronger leg.
But Kasay, who will be 43 in October, has been in the game longer and has been more consistent.
Hartley has shown himself to be a rollercoaster of emotions. In 2009, he missed a game-winning kick against Tampa Bay in the regular season. He hit a field goal to send the Saints to the Super Bowl from nearly the same place in the playoffs, however.
A season later, he missed two field goals in the season opener against Minnesota before botching a critical overtime 29-yard field goal against Atlanta, a miss that sent the Saints to a loss. He went 4 of 6 that season from between 20-29 yards, a stat that helped force coach Sean Payton’s hand in signing John Carney.
The young kicker finished the season 20 of 25, though, making his final 10 kicks and 15 of his final 16 kicks.
Kasay, meanwhile, went 11 of 11 from inside of 30 yards and 10 of 10 between 30-39 yards. He was 5 of 8 from between 40-49 yards and hit two from beyond 50. He was 63 of 63 in extra points.
Hartley appeared fully recovered from his hip injury during organized team activities, booting field goals with authority during practice. He was as relaxed in the locker room as we’ve seen him, even approaching some reporters one day to chat about things other than football.
The youngster is likely the first-team kicker heading into camp. But Kasay is there nipping on his heels. If the Saints can afford the roster spot, we see both at least starting the season with the team.