KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The place kicker position is often ignored until kicks go awry.
And Chiefs rookie kicker Cairo Santos is in the spotlight after missing a 37-yard field goal at the end of a 10-minute drive against the Denver Broncos.
While he connected on 1-of-2 on field goal attempts in Week 2, the 5-8, 160-pound Santos is a shaky 2-of-4 on the young season and has two straight weeks with a miss.
The production likely isn’t what the Chiefs had in mind after choosing Santos over veteran Ryan Succop, who eventually signed a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans.
Nevertheless, Santos continues to have the team’s confidence despite the erratic start.
“None of us have lost trust in him as a kicker,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. “Just got to make it a little bit more consistent.”
The Chiefs signed Santos as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane where the 22-year-old kicker enjoyed a decorated college career.
The native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, was a recipient of the Lou Groza National Collegiate Place-Kicker Award and named the College Football Performance National Kicker of the Year following the 2012 season. He also earned a first team All-America selection his junior season.
Santos went 61-of-78 (.782) on field goal attempts at Tulane and made 26 straight field goals, marking the second-longest streak in NCAA history.
“I haven’t missed a field goal under 40 yards since 2011, sophomore year of college,” Santos said Monday. “So, it’s something so unnatural for me to do. It’s bad timing that it’s happened early in my career like this.”
Of course, Santos spent four years at Tulane kicking indoors at the Mercedes Benz Superdome for home games.
While that factor could be viewed as a potential explanation of his recent problems, Santos quickly shot it down.
“I actually broke down all my kicks at Tulane and I have a higher percentage kicking outdoors than indoors,” Santos said. “In the past two games – Arrowhead is always tricky – but I learned if I aim down the middle and hit my ball the ball won’t move too much. And yesterday (Sunday), there wasn’t a strong wind at all. I hate to miss opportunities like that. Being outdoors doesn’t bother me at all.”
Reid used a baseball analogy to address Santos’ early-season struggles.
“He hasn’t missed many field goals in his time,” Reid said, “so this is a new experience for him. I would probably compare it to a batter in baseball. Sometimes you get into a funk as a kicker, you have to work your way out of it.”
Santos is fully aware he’s under the microscope and said his confidence remains high, a good attribute given a kicker is often alone on an island.
But Santos adds the area causing personal disappointment surrounds his knowledge of how well he kicked during training camp, preseason, practices and pregame warm-ups, all of which haven’t translated yet to live action.
“The confidence level is as high as it could be in the way that I’m kicking because warm-ups I haven’t been missing and kicking well,” he said. “It’s just frustrating that sometimes things like that happen to every kicker.”
Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub identified a mechanical problem in Week 1 where Santos lifted his head after kicking the ball, which Santos said hindered the follow through.
Santos said he worked on mechanics during practices leading to Week 2, and the results were promising.
“I missed one kick out of 22 field goals that we attempted in team reps,” he said. “We kept working on my fundamentals. At practice I was kicking great, pregame warm-ups kicking great, so it’s just things that pop up. But I don’t think it’s a big fundamental thing.”
Santos has also received advice from long snapper Thomas Gafford and punter/holder Dustin Colquitt after the trio reviewed game film.
“We felt from the time we called field goal to the time that I kicked the ball it happened way too fast than it needs to be,” Santos said. “I just need to take my time, get to my spot, look at the uprights and trust the process, trust my fundamentals.”
In the meantime, the Chiefs are content to allow Santo to work though the identified problems.
The solution could prove as simple as not overthinking the field goal attempt, and Santos is grateful for the coaching staff’s trust.
But he has no illusions on what could happen should he fail to produce in a performance-based league.
“I know that patience runs out in the NFL,” Santo said. “It’s something I’m aware of, and being a rookie you always have to keep proving yourself. I’m very thankful the team has been pretty supporting and helpful.”