FOXBORO -- The Patriots had more than one job to replace when they put Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve earlier this week. They handled the field-goal and extra-point work by giving veteran Mike Nugent the place-kicker gig.
The kickoff duties, meanwhile, sound like they could be going to rookie punter Jake Bailey based on what long-snapper Joe Cardona told reporters Thursday.
#Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona says integrating Mike Nugent into the field goal/PAT operation isn't "rocket science." Also seemed to indicate that Jake Bailey may handle kickoffs.— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) October 3, 2019
Joe Cardona may have just revealed Jake Bailey, not Mike Nugent, will be handling kickoffs.— Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) October 3, 2019
No surprise there if Bailey's the choice. The Stanford product -- who had Bill Belichick gushing about his directional punting and hang time earlier this week -- didn't hide the fact that he'd love to kick off after he was drafted in the fifth round back in the spring.
"I would love to be able to do that," he said. "It's been a part of my game ever since I've been at Stanford. It's something I would like to continue. A lot of NFL teams really value a punter that can also kick off because it kind of helps out the kicker if he's getting old or something or doesn't have a strong kickoff leg, so whatever happens, I'll be super happy with it."
Bailey was a kickoff specialist to start his career at Stanford, punting only situationally. But even as his punting duties increased, he remained the kickoff choice for coach David Shaw. Bailey had 60 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs last year (83 percent). In 2017, he had 58 of 83 kicks go for touchbacks (70 percent), playing primarily in kicker-friendly Pac-12 locales.
The only thing in Bailey's way was Gostkowski. At 35 years old, Gostkowski wanted to keep kicking off this season, but he acknowledged it was harder on his body than kicking field goals.
"I would say you always practice field goals a lot more than kickoffs," he said. "I would equate kicking off to like hitting on the driving range. We work on things like hitting it short, hitting it in the corner, hitting it high. But at the end of the day, I'm really just swinging as hard as I can. Field goals. are so much more attention to detail that goes into it. Plus, if a kicker were to get injured, nine times out of 10 it's on a kickoff.
"It's one of those things, you gotta kick off enough to where you're comfortable with your rhythm and your steps. But you could go out there and kick field goals all day. You kick too many kickoffs, it'll tire you out a little bit more so you have to watch out how much you actually do kickoff-wise. I know a guy like Thomas Morstead who used to do it, he was like, 'I could punt all day, but kickoffs you just can't do all day.' It's one of those things. It's all effort. Balls to the wall. Then field goal is more like a smooth stroke."
Gostkowski took every kick off and appeared to get injured -- or aggravate an injury -- after making a tackle during a kickoff in Buffalo last weekend. The Patriots, according to Football Outsiders, are 26th in the NFL in opponent starting field position following kickoffs. They allow opposing offenses to begin drives following kickoffs, on average, at the 26.19 yard line.
That's obviously not where the Patriots would like to be, and it helps explain why they went out and signed some kick-coverage help this week when they brought back Jordan Richards. Their No. 26 ranking at this point in time is actually an uptick from 2018, though, when they were last in the league in opponent starting field position following kickoffs (27.11 yard line on average). It was a drastic drop from their No. 2 ranking in 2017 and No. 3 ranking in 2016.
It sounds like now with Gostkowski out, it'll be Bailey's right leg that'll have the opportunity to try to help that ranking climb back to a place where Belichick and special teams coach Joe Judge would like it.
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