With one kick, Andrew Franks went from a potential liability to a Dolphins folk hero.
His 55-yard field goal at Buffalo Christmas Eve not only sent the Bills and Dolphins to overtime, it was arguably the franchise’s most consequential play in nearly a decade.
The Dolphins, as any casual fan knows, went on to beat the Bills in overtime, and they clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 the next day.
And it made Franks an unlikely star, at least for a week. Every time his phone would buzz, it was seemingly another friend sending him video of the kick.
“I think, especially in a moment like that, you sort of have to take yourself out of the game a little bit,” Franks said Thursday, more than five months after the highlight of his young career. “I think I kick the best when you take the pressure of the game away from it. When you're calm, relaxed, that's really when you kick the best. At that moment, it's a rushed field goal, we've got a couple of seconds left, it's a long one in Buffalo of all places. At that point, you've just got to remember to kick the ball. That was really my mindset with it.”
Franks didn’t have an exact number when asked who unlikely making that attempt was — outside, in cold conditions, with just seconds to run onto the field and line up the kick — but acknowledged it was a “low-percentage kick” for most.
Franks’ percentages weren’t necessarily that great in ideal conditions. He missed five of his other 20 kicks in 2016, and ranked 31st in field-goal accuracy (making just 76.2 percent of his attempts).
Still, the Dolphins never wavered in their support. They didn’t bench or cut Franks during his slump, and they didn’t even bring in a kicker to compete with him this offseason. The only way he won’t be the Dolphins’ opening-day kicker is if he collapses in the preseason.
“We obviously evaluated a bunch of guys,” special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said. “... The specialist position is a really unique one because you’re always kind of competing against the rest of the field, regardless if we have two kickers or if there are two kickers somewhere else or whatever. We felt very comfortable. I thought Andrew started off the year very strong last year. I thought he might have hit a little bit of a lull in the middle of the year, but he really finished strong.”
That strong finish included two successful attempts in frigid Pittsburgh, which provided half of Miami’s points in the Dolphins’ playoff loss to the Steelers.
“I always like competition,” Franks said. “I always like comparing myself, so just because there's not a guy who's on the roster that I'm competing with, I really look to everyone else in the league. I don't want to be in the middle, in the bottom of the league. I really want to aim for that top spot.”
▪ The Dolphins on Thursday signed receiver Mitch Mathews, who has played for three NFL teams in the past year.
The Dolphins signed Mathews after losing Rashawn Scott to an undisclosed injury. The Dolphins are optimistic Scott will be ready for the start of training camp, according to a source.
Mathews went undrafted in 2016 out of BYU, where he caught 152 passes for 2083 yards (a 13.7 average) and 24 touchdowns in four seasons.
He joined the Kansas City Chiefs after the draft but was released last August. He then spent part of October on Cleveland’s practice squad before being cut Nov. 2. He spent April and May of this year on Minnesota’s practice squad before being released.
▪ The Dolphins hosted Chip Kelly, the innovative and polarizing football mind who has challenged conventional wisdom on everything from speed of game to nutrition, to their final OTA practice of the year Thursday.
Kelly, the ex-Oregon, Eagles and 49ers coach who became an analyst for ESPN after the Niners fired him several months back, patrolled the Dolphins practice field with Dolphins coaching consultant Joe Vitt, the longtime NFL assistant and Gase’s father-in-law.
▪ Before the Dolphins meet the Eagles in Week 3 of the preseason, the two teams will hold two days of joint practices up in Philadelphia, the Eagles announced Thursday.
▪ Defensive end Cameron Wake and running back Damien Williams missed the final OTA practice of the year for personal reasons. Receiver Kenny Stills and tackle Laremy Tunsil were the latest Dolphins players held out due to minor injury.
Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.