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Over Before It Was Over (McCrane Just Another Camp Body)

I wince every time the Cardinals announce the signing of an undrafted free agent and I read a fan in response write “just another camp body.” That always sticks in my craw—-because every player who gets signed with a chance to compete for spot on an NFL roster has his own unique journey and success story. Just ask Kurt Warner.

This morning I find myself wincing about one of the comments Steve Wilks made yesterday about recently cut kicker Matt McCrane. Wilks, when pressed by the Arizona Republic’s reporter Bob McManaman as to why the Cardinals cut McCrane, said that they sent McCrane out for the long field goals “to showcase him” for other teams, with the belief that McCrane would make them.

What Wilks’ comment more than suggests is that the kicking competition had been long since decided in favor of Phil Dawson, who missed a total of 11 kicks (8 FGs and 3 Xpts) last year in addition to the two FGs (2/4) he missed this pre-season.

So—-when McCrane nailed his 54 yarder in the Superdome versus the Saints in pre-season game 2—-according to his head coach, that was for showcasing him for other teams—-a head coach who vowed when he took the job that “there will be competition at every position.” The same head coach has said repeatedly, “ I don’t care where you are from or where you were drafted,” the “best players are going to win the jobs.”

Then—-a week later at AT&T stadium—-when McCrane nailed a 53 yarder that split the uprights with about 10 yards to spare—-that again was to showcase him for other NFL teams.

Phil Dawson missed both of his field goals this pre-season from the same distance and thus has done little to allay the questions that some Cardinals’ fans have of him still being the reliable kicker who made 24 of 27 FGs for the 49ers in 2015.

The fact is, ln 2017, Phil Dawson missed field goals in 5 of the 8 games the Cardinals lost and missed extra points in 2 of the 8 games the Cardinals lost. Now—-I am not blaming Dawson for those losses. But, as well all know, momentum is a tricky and fickle thing in football, and there are few things more demoralizing and momentum-altering than missed kicks and coming away empty on scoring drives. Plus, most of the time, missed field goals give the opposing offense advantageous field position.

Speaking of blame—-as a captain of the special teams last year, Dawson had the temerity to throw his coaches and teammates under the bus when he publicly blamed his kicking woes on the poor blocking on the line, particularly the left side of the line—-which, as Dawson put it—-caused him to shorten his follow through.

True leaders don’t do that, even ones who find themselves embroiled in a toxic team culture where public finger pointing at the players was repeatedly made by the head coach.

When the Cardinals called Matt McCrane during the draft, McCrane and his agent, knowing that Phil Dawson was the incumbent kicker, were assured that the kicking job was wide open. McCrane had been garnering interest from the Raiders, Dolphins and Vikings, but the Cardinals made the winning pitch, so much so that the second the draft was over, McCrane agreed to his contract and shut the door on all other potential offers.

Special teams’ coordinator Jeff Rodgers worked out McCrane at Kansas St. Rodgers was the one making the calls to McCrane during the draft. And with good reason—-McCrane was virtually automatic at K-State from inside of 40 yards, making 95% of his field goals and 99% of his extra points. He was 5/8 on kicks over 50 yards.

In today’s NFL with the extra point no longer being a chip shot, high percentage kickers like McCrane, whose form is masterful in the way he replicates it over and over, should be in vogue. Did you know that Matt McCrane’s career field goal percentage ranks him 7th on the all-time NCAA division 1 list?

The scouts questioned his ability to hit the 50+ yarders—-but, not only did McCrane silence those critics with his two 50+ yarders this pre-season—-it’s HOW he did it that should greatly impress anyone who studies kicking. Just like in golf when one tees off an a par 5 hoping to land the ball in range to go for the green in two, the temptation is to put that little extra charge on the swing. Those of us who play golf know that over-swinging is usually a sure way to duck hook the ball out of bounds.

On both of Matt McCrane’s 50+ yard makes—-if you go back and watch—--his swing is smooth and steady, just as if he’s attempting a 38 yarder. He makes these with relative ease all the while knowing that one miss could mean the end of his dream to kick in the NFL.

Like Lee Trevino once said about handling the pressure on the PGA tour—-”Pressure on the PGA tour? I will tell you about pressure—-it was playing a five dollar Nassau with 3 dollars in my pocket. Now that was pressure.”

If the so-called kicking competition wasn’t officially over in week 2 versus the Saints, it certainly was over before the week 3 game—-because on national TV—-NBC broadcaster Al Michaels, having previously said he dined the night before with some Cardinals’ officials—-proclaimed that the kicking job was Phil Dawson’s and that there was no way that young rookie Matt McCrane was even a consideration.

That was moments before McCrane went out and nailed the 53 yarder with 10 yards to spare.

With McCrane and the Cardinals—-it wasn’t “over until it’s over”—-apparently, it was over before it was over.

To those whose say, well, these are just meaningless pre-season games, ironically, they aren’t meaningless to Steve Wilks who was visibly upset with the team for “not protecting the nest” versus the Broncos.

Steve Wilks said McCrane “did a tremendous job” and that he is certain that McCrane will be kicking for some NFL team this season.

Well, it was a good thing—-at least for his sake—-that McCrane was well showcased for some other team.

To me—-cutting McCrane feels like picking Phil Mickelson over Justin Thomas for the 2018 Ryder Cup team.

McCrane wished Phil Dawson well and thanked the Cardinals for giving him the opportunity. He lauded the Cardinals for being an “outstanding organization.” One will never hear any sour grapes from him.

Yup, at the end of the day, why should anyone be upset? After all, this was just another camp body riding away off into the sunset.