Kickers must cross two thresholds to stick around long in the NFL.
They must be accurate. And they must be available.
Caleb Sturgis, for lengthy stretches of his career, has done neither.
Sturgis, who battled groin injuries in each of his first two years, has a new malady. He’s out for the rest of the offseason with a leg injury, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Monday. Sturgis wasn’t present for Monday’s OTA session, the second open to reporters this spring.
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Sturgis’ competition, rookie Andrew Franks, seized on the opportunity; despite a few misses, he earned praise by drilling a 54-yarder with 10 yards to spare.
And yet, the true threat to Sturgis’ roster spot might be a kicker currently on another team — or presently out of the league altogether.
In the coming months, the Dolphins will closely monitor both Sturgis’ health and his effectiveness (he has finished no better than 28th in field goal accuracy in his first two seasons).
If neither improves significantly, the Dolphins will give real thought to replacing him with either Franks or (more likely) a veteran before the season begins.
“Listen, that position in general is one where the target’s always on you and the spotlight’s always on you,” said Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi. “When there’s only one of you on the roster, you have to perform.”
Rizzi added: “I think if you ask him, he wants to be more consistent. Team-wise, we need to be more consistent. Those numbers have to improve.”
Sturgis was a fifth-round draft pick in 2013, and that investment has given him more leeway than most. But in Year 3, that leeway is, by all appearances, gone.
He has connected on just 77.5 percent of his field goal attempts as a pro; the player he replaced in 2013 — Dan Carpenter — has made 90.5 percent of his kicks for Buffalo over the last two seasons.
And while Sturgis has never actually missed a game in his young career, his injury history is as big a concern within the organization as his accuracy issues — if not bigger.
It is unclear if he will be healthy for the start of training camp. In the meantime, Franks will make his case for the job — even if he’s not outright lobbying for it.
“We both get equal reps, so for me, it doesn’t change much,” said Franks, an undrafted rookie out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “I like having a competitor next to me on the field. It really pushes me in that regard. So I sort of miss having him here, but I hope he gets better as fast as he can because I want that push.”
Among the other takeaways during Rizzi’s first press availability of 2015:
▪ Even with Jarvis Landry’s increased role on offense this fall, he remains a major factor in the return game. Landry ranked fourth league-wide in kickoff returns (28.1 yards per return) in 2014.
“It’s a delicate balance, obviously,” Rizzi said of using a top skill position player in the return game.
Added Dolphins coach Joe Philbin: “Every play in football, all 161 of them are important. Special teams, whoever gives us the best chance to win at every position and every situation, we have to consider.”
“As many touches as I can get a game is good with me.”
▪ Kenny Stills, LaMichael James and Christion Jones are also being considered for return work; in the case of James and Jones, it might be their best way to make the team.
“I’ve always been a proponent of getting as many guys on the roster as you can who can do the job,” Rizzi said.
▪ Along with field goal percentage, the Dolphins’ kickoff and punt coverage effectiveness must improve, Rizzi said. The Dolphins’ kick coverage team ranked 28th (26.7 yards per return) in 2014.
Meanwhile Monday, Louis Delmas and Will Davis, who are both coming off reconstructive knee surgery, sat out practice after getting on-field work the week before. Safeties Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens alternated reps with the first team in Delmas’ absence.
Offensive tackle Branden Albert (knee) and safety Don Jones (shoulder) remained sidelined and are not expected back before training camp. Albert did conditioning work off to the side during practice.