COSTA MESA, Calif. — Anthony Lynn succinctly summed up how some head coaches view kicking competitions when talking to reporters in training camp last week.
“You know kickers, they’re a little weird,” Lynn said, smiling, when asked why Caleb Sturgis is taking it slow as he works his way back from hip surgery that cut short his 2017 campaign.
Kickers are viewed as having unique personalities, so coaches tread lightly to make sure confidence is high and they can perform on game days.
Caleb Sturgis has made 81 percent of his career field goals. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Forgive him if Lynn is extra careful around these kickers. The Chargers had five different players handle field goals, kickoffs and extra points in 2017, including punter Drew Kaser. The Bolts finished a league-worst 67 percent on field goals last year.
The Chargers also finished worst in the NFL in kickoff starting point with an average of the 23-yard line.
Last season, the Chargers chose potential over experience, with Younghoe Koo earning the job over Josh Lambo.
The Chargers cut Koo, an undrafted rookie out of Georgia Southern, after four games. Koo had a potential game-tying kick blocked in the final second of a 24-21 Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos and then missed what would have been a game-winner in the final seconds of the Chargers’ 19-17 Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Overall, Koo finished 3-for-6 on field goal attempts last year while converting all nine of his extra-point attempts.
Signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars after his release, Lambo finished 19-of-20 on field goals, including a long of 56 yards, and made a 30-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the Chargers in Week 10.
After experiencing the dumpster fire at the kicking position last season, Chargers GM Tom Telesco made fixing it one of the top priorities this offseason. However, the Chargers still do not have clarity at kicker.
They signed Sturgis to a two-year, $4.5 million deal during free agency, including $1 million in guaranteed money. Sturgis is competing with Roberto Aguayo, who signed a future/reserve deal with the Chargers in January.
In 62 career games over five seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles, Sturgis converted 81 percent of his field goals with a career-long of 55.
A former second-round selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016, Aguayo, 24, hardly ever missed in college but has struggled in the pros. He was cut by the Bucs and the Bears last year, and spent last season on the Carolina Panthers practice squad.
So far during competition at training camp, Sturgis is 21-of-28 on field goals. In the first two preseason games, Sturgis made a 45-yarder but missed from 41 yards in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Aguayo is 23-of-29 on field goals during training camp and made his only field goal attempt during preseason play, a 39-yarder last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Aguayo also made all three of his extra-point attempts, and has handled all of the kickoff duties in two games.
Lynn said the competition between Aguayo and Sturgis is too close to call.
“I would love to make that decision sooner than later. I really would,” Lynn said. “But it’s so close right now, so I just can’t. We have so many battles that we can focus on this training camp, but that one right there — I’m definitely not ready to pull the trigger on that one yet.”
Lynn went on to say it’s possible the Chargers would keep two kickers during the regular season.
Roberto Aguayo is looking to rebound after being cut by the Bucs and Bears last season. Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire
Sturgis, 29, is considered the front-runner because of his NFL experience and the up-front money the Chargers guaranteed in his contract. Sturgis said he experienced a setback during offseason work from his recovery from hip surgery, which limited how much he could kick.
However, the Florida native had his best performance last week during training camp, finishing 6-of-6 with a long of 53 yards.
Aguayo pointed to former Chicago Bears special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, now the special teams coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, and his wife, Courtney, for helping to turn things around, saying at one point he considered calling it a career. Aguayo said his first two years in the NFL he was going back and forth between two different swings and forcing the ball in.
“Really, it’s just keeping the same repetitive motion,” Aguayo said. “Because I knew if I trusted that, I knew I could trust it in games.
“That’s why I really don’t kick in the net that much. I know I’m warm with the way I’m hitting it, and I know there’s a 95 percent chance I’m going to make it.”
Despite the competition, Sturgis and Aguayo appear to have an amicable relationship, unlike last year when the relationship between Lambo and Koo appeared strained, with Lambo turning his back and looking the other way when Koo kicked during training camp competitions.
“He’s a great dude, a great guy,” Aguayo said about Sturgis. “He’s a great competitor. If he makes a kick or does well, I congratulate him. It’s really a great competition. You congratulate someone when they do a good job, that’s just me. And he does the same thing with me.
“Really, at the end of the day it’s going to come from upstairs or the coaches. He’s just trying to do the best he can, and I’m trying to do the best I can with the opportunities we have.”