It’s a rare occurrance that these guys get much attention at all, but as the Carolina Panthers’ preseason nears its end, all eyes are on the kickers and punters.
Rookie draft pick Harrison Butker is still vying for a spot against veteran Graham Gano, while journeyman punter Michael Palardy is trying to gain the edge over veteran Andy Lee.
“As far as we’re concerned, the way we look at it, these guys are even,” head coach Ron Rivera said on Sunday afternoon. “But they’ve done a great job in camp, been very competitive.”
In reality, Gano likely has a bit of an edge over Butker based on experience and tenure, but Gano missed a 50-yard field goal attempt in Carolina’s preseason contest against Houston, while Butker split the uprights on a 51-yarder. Since, neither has missed a field goal or extra point.
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Palardy, who was signed last season after Lee tore his hamstring, has made the punting competition a tough one. Palardy entered last week’s game against Jacksonville with a 48-yard average on his punts, and against the Jaguars was even better with a 50.5-yard average.
In his six live preseason punts, Palardy also has the very slight edge in net punting, with an average of 44.7 yards, and leads in punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (four).
Lee, who has five live preseason punts, had a mediocre opening night against Houston with a 36-yard average and did not get a chance to kick in Nashville. But against Jacksonville he looked like his old self, averaging 51.3 yards on three punts with a 58-yard long. Lee has not punted for a touchback, while Palardy has once.
Lee has an average of 43.8 net punting yards and two punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
This will be the week Rivera and his staff make the final decisions, with roster cuts swiftly approaching. That makes Thursday night’s exhibition match against Pittsburgh all the more important.
“Big week,” said Rivera. “Very big week.”