A variation of this joke so thoroughly circulated South Florida during the dreariest days of the Dolphins’ 2011 season, it’s impossible to say who came up with it first:
Who’s the MVP of Miami’s offense? The kicker.
Not just any kicker, mind you, but Dan Carpenter — the young specialist built like a linebacker, the Nebraska-bred bomber who became the Dolphins’ most dependable offensive player.
(Tony Sparano, Miami’s now-jettisoned coach, so appreciated Carpenter’s prowess that he would fire off celebratory postkick fist pumps powerful enough to launch an Internet meme).
Sparano’s gone, of course, but Carpenter is back — and plans to be more effective than ever. He would just as soon kick extra points instead of field goals, however, and his teammates surely agree.
“I think every guy feels that they’re the best kicker in the league,” said Carpenter, now 26 and his fifth NFL season.
“There are always guys that are higher in percentage every year, and obviously that’s something I’m striving to get to,” he added. “I want to be the guy that has the best percentage every year, the highest percentage of touchbacks per kick.”
Lofty goals, sure. But the talent is clearly there. It was there when he beat out Jay Feely in 2008’s training camp to win the job as an undrafted rookie. It was there in his sophomore season, when his 89.3 percent conversion rate on field-goal attempts earned Carpenter a trip to the Pro Bowl.
And it was there in 2011, when — all kidding aside — he was the team’s most potent offensive weapon. The Dolphins were involved in five games decided by three points or fewer last year, and although Miami went just 1-4 in those outings, the blame doesn’t lie with Carpenter. He connected on 12 of 13 field-goal tries in close games.
“He’s very valuable, knowing that he can go out there and produce, put points on the board and do well on kickoffs,” said Brandon Fields, Miami’s punter. “He’s proven himself over the years that he can do it. There’s nothing that’s a glaring defect. His own head’s not going to get in the way.”
His hair? Now that’s a different story. Carpenter entered the league clean-cut. In Year 5, his mane is shoulder-length. Not that he has to worry about things like job interviews.
Carpenter is in the penultimate season of his current four-year deal, earning a base salary of $2.5 million.
And while his new coach, Joe Philbin, has yet to fire off any fist pumps after a Carpenter field goal, the Dolphins’ front office was confident enough with him that the team brought in no training camp competition.
“Dan has worked very hard,” Philbin said. “I like both those guys, all our specialists. I’m really pleased with their work ethic.”
And those specialists appear to like one another.
John Denney, Fields and Carpenter have been the team’s snapper-holder-kicker combination for years now, and for large swaths of practice, are the only teammates they come in contact with. Familiarity has bred friendship, and they often hang out away from work.
In the offseason, Carpenter was able to talk a handful of teammates into going to prom (and no, not in a creepy Matthew McConaughey-from- Dazed and Confused-kind-of-way).
Carpenter and his wife Kaela helped organize “A Prom To Remember,” which allowed young cancer patients the chance to attend the formal affair. Carpenter and some of his teammates served as dates.
“He’s a good person,” Fields said. “He’s down to earth.”
Carpenter’s kicks, meanwhile, often defy gravity. For his career, Carpenter has made 105 of 128 field-goal tries and has missed just one of his 129 extra-point attempts.
He already owns the team record for longest field goal (60 yards), and his kickoffs in 2011 traveled an average distance of 69.6 yards — sixth-best in the NFL.
Any coach will agree — that’s no laughing matter.