Since signing in 2010, Mike Nugent has always had an uncontested hold on the Bengals’ starting kicker spot. This year’s training camp marks a change for the franchise.
As all Bengals fans know, Mike Nugent‘s time in Cincinnati has had its ups and downs. There was that game in Carolina when he was able to wrench a tie from the jaws of victory and hand the league its first draw since the Bengals first introduced the concept to Donovan McNabb in 2008. There was also that game in 2014 when Nugent made five field goals to nearly single-handedly beat the Baltimore Ravens.
The fact of the matter is that Mike Nugent is the biggest question mark on the entire Bengals roster. And he plays the highest scoring position on the team.
This isn’t the mark of a winning team. The teams that fans see going deep in January have solid kickers. The Colts haven Adam Vinatieri. The Packers have Mason Crosby. The Patriots have Stephen Gostkowski. A kicker makes or breaks a team in the playoffs.
Mike Nugent is the biggest question mark on the entire Bengals roster
The Bengals have been plagued incessantly by Nugent’s inconsistency. The expectation for fans has now become that Nugent will miss in the big moments. His missed kick against Denver last season cost the Bengals the number two seed.
Bengals fans have opined for years that the team needs a new kicker, but their calls were always either never heard or never heeded. This training camp, they may finally get their wish.
Zach Hocker is a new member of the Bengals squad this offseason. The former Saints kicker inked a cheap two-year future contract with the Bengals in January, and while most consider him a long shot for the 53-man roster, he has a few things going for him on his journey from “Who Dat” to “Who Dey.”
Is it time?
At 35 years old, Mike Nugent is no spring chicken in the NFL world, even for kickers. In the last year of his contract and with his retirement imminent, Nugent could be coerced into something of an early retirement by the Bengals. His guaranteed money mostly comes in the way of a roster bonus, so Hocker has some time to win the job before money could become an issue.
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Conversely, at 24 years old, Hocker is one of the youngest kickers in the league. This has its upsides. Hocker is signed to a pretty cap-friendly deal as a practice squad player or future starter because of his age. Also, if he turns out to be accurate, the Bengals would likely have a quality kicker locked in for the next decade.
The downside with Hocker is his reputation or lack thereof. The Bengals are his fifth team since coming into the NFL two years ago, and in the little bit he’s played since then, he’s been average, converting 9 of the 14 field goals he’s taken. Luckily for Bengals fans, accuracy is likely to be found with time, as kicking at the NFL level will get easier with experience.
In all likelihood, Hocker will be a practice squad Bengal for this season and get promoted next year when Nugent’s deal ends and he retires. Regardless of what happens this year, Bengals fans can feel at ease knowing that there’s an ascending young kicker on the horizon.