By now, you've likely all heard that Jay Feely was released, meaning the team has placed its confidence in undrafted rookie Dan Carpenter.
So, was this the right move?
It's hard to say at this point. In my opinion, Bill Parcells unfairly took an attitude towards Feely from the first day he took the job. Parcells historically has no time for kickers and his patience with them is almost nonexistent. Feely, rather outspoken for a kicker, drew immediate criticism from Parcells. He essentially said that kickers should be seen and not heard and that Feely had better stop talking so much. However, Feely has never said anything that put the Dolphins organization in a bad light, and the bottom line was that Feely made the effort to stay around after practices and games and talk to any and all reporters whereas many of the more "important" players did not. You can't fault him for that.
Of course, the most important distinction between the players should be in what they bring on the field. According to all the training camp reports, Feely and Carpenter have been hitting about the same percentage of their kicks. However, Carpenter hit only 72.8% if his kicks in college, a big difference between Feely's career 80.8%. Also, over the past four seasons (the same time period of Carpenter's college career) Feely has been better than his career average, hitting 84.3% of his field goals. He has improved his field goal percentage every season since 2003.
Of course, field goal percentage is one of the most inconsistent stats from year to year, but it's safe to say that Feely is one of the league's most accurate kickers. Last year may be the best he'll do accuracy-wise, but it's unlikely that he will experience a precipitous fall-off.
To be fair, Carpenter did improve his accuracy during his junior and senior seasons, hitting 81.1% over the two seasons combined, and 82.6% in his final year alone. If that improvement continues into the pros, as it appears to be so far in camp and the preseason, then this move makes sense. After all, Feely is 32 years old while Carpenter is only 22. The new regime has wanted to get younger at all positions, and kicker is no different.
The bigger question in my mind is kickoff distance. Kickoff distance is one of the most consistent stats from year to year, and it greatly affects the success of the coverage units on special teams. This was an area that Feely struggled mightily with last season, posting an average distance of only 57.8 yards. But that distance was far enough below his career average of 62.9 yards to believe that it was a fluky year caused in part by Cam Cameron's foolish decisions to squib kick so often.
Carpenter's ability on kickoffs is a bit of an unknown at this point. Most reports say he has a strong kickoff leg, but I didn't see it in the first preseason game, and Feely was reportedly kicking off farther than Carpenter in camp. Then again, Carpenter was said to be getting better hangtime on his kicks. If he can prove that he can consistently get touchbacks, then this will have been the right move.
It's a bonus that Carpenter has the ability to punt as well. He punted 71 times in college for a 41.8 yard average.
In my opinion, the jury will remain out on this move until Carpenter shows how good his kickoff leg is. That is assuming that he maintains a field goal percentage somwhere in the 80's as he did in his last two college seasons. Feely likely won't have to wait long to find another job, meaning that Miami won't get another crack at him if Carpenter fails. Hopefully that won't be the case.