Despite Randy Bullock’s struggles all season, and even working out free agents Tuesday, the Texans are sticking by their up-and-down kicker.
“He’s got to get it done,” interim coach Wade Phillips said Wednesday during a press conference at Reliant Stadium. “That’s the bottom line, his production. He started out poorly, then he started kicking really well and I think he got away from his technique a little bit last game.”
Bullock is 13-of-21 on field goals this season. He missed three field goals last Sunday during a 27-24 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the last of which would’ve tied the game and sent it into overtime.
When I am asked why Randy Bullock is still with the Texans, I cannot construct any great reason.
In 2013, where some are making the argument that rule changes are making special teams irrelevant and that field goals are so easy they should be made harder, the Texans special teams is woefully relevant, and the Texans can’t make field goals that most kickers make.
This is not just a retrospective point of view.
The argument has been made that Randy Bullock won an award for being the best kicker in college football, and that it wasn’t realistic to assume he would struggle.
I disagree with that viewpoint.
What was known in 2012.
Randy Bullock coming out of school did win the Lou Groza Award for best field goal kicker in the nation. Mostly it was due to the prolific field goal opportunities with the Aggies his senior year, and he made most of those opportunities. Notably, his senior year, he was 11 for 13 from 40-49, and 1 out of 2 from +50. The previous years he had far less opportunities and a lower percentage made as well.
If you looked at the totality of his career, there was little to suggest he should be a kicker freaky athletic enough to be worth using a draft pick for other than the Texans really, really needed a kicker. (Which is an eh reason for drafting one). Other Lou Groza Award winners have not been drafted but have been picked up as free agents.
He has an unusual body type for the position, though there have been some shorter kickers who have had some success.
Why did the Texans chose Bullock? Words at the time:
From GM Rick Smith:
We had him rated as the top guy of the group. First of all, he’s a very talented young man. That’s apparent and he has a very strong leg. He’s had some success kicking at A&M, again, big school, big competition. I like his mental makeup. I like what he represents. I like his mental framework. I think that’s a very important characteristic for a kicker. Just talking to the young man and interviewing him and watching him, he was able to come over to our local workout and every chance we interacted with him, we felt more and more comfortable with him as the top guy. I think all three of those guys are very talented, but I’m glad that we were able to get the pick of the litter and get the guy that we wanted. We feel like he’ll be the better of the bunch.
They had no kicker on the roster at the time, so they were either going to have to draft a guy, get a free agent or both. They chose Option C, both in 2012.
Both was a defensible call if you really liked Bullock as a prospect. Bullock finished the preseason games with an IR-
stashing ending groin injury, and some times during the few kicking sessions in front of team/media/fans, Shayne Graham looked much better.
What was known in 2013 off-season.
So, you have a unproven kicker you drafted in 2012 who didn’t make it through his first set of preseason games without getting hurt. Do you: A. Give him the job; B. Provide real competition?
The Texans did C, a pseudo-competition by bringing in Andrew Shapiro who could lesson the load by helping with both punts and kicks, and only took up one roster spot. During early OTAs, I asked Gary Kubiak if they were going to be bringing in any competition at kicker. His response:
Well, the young man we have here now can do both. (P Andrew) Shapiro can do both. But the way camp is set up now with the numbers, whoever that other guy is, and so our other guy is Shapiro, you want him to build it. Do both to take something off the punter and your kicker so you can use those roster spots somewhere else. Our plan is to go to camp that way and let them both compete against him because he’s a kid that’s done both pretty well in college.
They ended up using Shapiro some in the preseason to fill in for punter Shane Lechler when he was sore, but it wasn’t really a kicker competition like the previous year where they traded field goals in front of the team.
They were saving roster spots.
At the end of OTAs, the team couldn’t have felt comfortable with the kicking that Randy Bullock was doing at the time. Here’s an excerpt from blog post I wrote at the time, which includes a Kubiak quote:
The unnerving, uncertain news out of OTAs involves second-year field goal kicker Randy Bullock. Last year, I never saw anything that made me think he was the kicker of the future, and he got shelved due to injury before the season started. This year in limited time, I haven’t seen anything particularly impressing either. I’ve been wanting to be impressed. It hasn’t happened at any point. (To be fair, others may disagree with this eyeball view. Humans, they often see things differently).
During OTAs, most of the field goal kicking isn’t done in front of the team. They have a portable overly-narrow field goal they wheel out to help practice with a narrow target on a different field than where most of the team is working. It’s the same concept as putting into a smaller cup–when you start putting into a normal sized cup it feels huge.
The last two days of OTAs, during the situational football focus that was the last week of camp, Bullock did kicks in front of team and assembled media. Between 40-49 is supposed to be nearly automatic for a modern NFL kicker. Bullock was not automatic.
Yes, it is early. But it is never too early to be concerned that your inexperienced kicker isn’t making kicks he is supposed to make for a team that has realistically high expectations. Here’s Kubiak talking about the progress of the special teams as a whole:
“Well I think there are a couple of things going on with our special teams. First off, we’ve got a lot of young guys that can run. That is where your special teams come from. I think getting (special teams coordinator) Joe (Marciano) Lig (special teams assistant Bob Ligashesky) to come in here and help him has really been a big help for Joe from a teaching process and a load standpoint. I think that’s been very good. I think we’ve got a chance. We’ve got a heck of a punter. I think we have a lot of confidence in him.We’ve got a young kicker that has got to come a long way. I think the youth and the fact that we can run gives us a chance to improve.” (My emphasis)
Not exactly a Kubiak vote of confidence.
As an aside, I’m not sure how a “lot of young guys that can run” really helped the Texans special teams much. It isn’t a particularly fast group, and tackling and playing smart is a big part of special teams too. Texans special teams should be its own blog post if you are a masochist enough to either write or read it.
What we know from during the 2013 season.
I don’t think I need to discuss this in depth. Likely you tried to erase it from your brain. If you require a painful summary, here goes:
You can call Bullock “young kicker” all you want. Kickers shouldn’t have to be babied and developed. They either have it, or they need to be gone. That applies to kickers whether they are young, in the middle, or getting eligible for social security that they won’t ever receive because nobody in their 40s is going to get any.
Excellent, Pro-Bowl kickers who suddenly lose their mojo sometimes need to be released. Bullock has done nothing in the NFL other than be relatively cheap. Which is likely the reason why he is still around instead of having to vet minimum someone who won’t necessarily do much better with field goals and touchbacks.
It’s just an another choice the Texans made this season that they needed to pan out, but didn’t.