Panthers pondering kickerís role
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó There is plenty that differentiates Rhys Lloyd from his Carolina Panthersí teammates, ranging from his wild mop of hair, to his giant calves, his English accent and his ability to analyze international soccer.
Lloydís title also is something new for Carolina: kickoff specialist. But after seeing kickoffs routinely land at the 15-yard line or out of bounds last season, and after Lloydís impressive one-game trial, the Dover, England native could provide some diversity this fall on the 53-man roster.
iThis isnít a novel thought. There are a lot of people in the league that carry two kickers,î coach John Fox said Tuesday. iItís an option, just like anybody else on the roster. If thatís going to make us better, thatís who weíll keep.î
While John Kasay turns 39 in October, itís believed his job is safe as the teamís placekicker. But as Kasayís kickoffs keep getting shorter as he gets older, giving up field position has become a liability for Carolina.
Kasay, the last original Panther on the roster, converted 24 of 28 field goals last year. But he had a league-low two touchbacks and sent five kickoffs out of bounds.
After the Panthers placed Julius Peppers on injured reserve before the final game last year, they signed Lloyd from Baltimoreís practice squad. Lloyd doubled Carolinaís touchback total against Tampa Bay. The Panthers then signed Lloyd in January to a two-year contract for the league minimum.
iObviously John is here and John will continue to do the job heís been doing,î Lloyd said after working with Kasay on an adjacent field Tuesday during the Panthersí optional workout. iIíll just kind of fit in as they need me. Itís a good opportunity, and hopefully I can succeed at it.î
Lloydís path to the NFL is as odd as his accent sounds on the gridiron.
The son of a professional soccer player who bounced around various leagues in England, Lloyd said he played soccer ipretty much from the time I could walk.î He moved to Minnesota in 1997 when his father, Bryn, went into coaching, and was a member of his high schoolís soccer and track teams.
On a trip to Florida in the spring of his sophomore year, he decided to enter the NFLís Extreme Challenge competition. It was there his high schoolís football coach discovered him and urged him to kick for his team.
Lloyd played soccer during the week in high school and kicked on Friday nights for two years. With a chance to play both sports in college, he chose football and ended up at Minnesota after a two-year stay in junior college.
Known for a booming leg and his bizarre, rugby-style punting, Lloyd kicked the winning field goal in the Golden Gophersí Sun Bowl win against Oregon in 2003.
Lloyd, who played in NFL Europa, spent most of last season on Baltimoreís practice squad while learning under veteran Ravens kicker Matt Stover.
Now Lloyd hopes his time in Carolina will eventually lead to a chance to be placekicker, too.
iI understand that Iím young and I need to be working in the system a little bit more,î Lloyd said. iIíve been fortunate to be behind the likes of John and Matt Stover in that I can learn. But eventually, if the opportunity arises, Iíd like to be both. But I know kickoffs is a way of getting into the league, and if thatís what it takes, Iím here.î
Only Chicago, with three, had fewer touchbacks than Carolina last season. In contrast, Oakland, behind Sebastian Janikowski, had 22. With starting field position so important, the Panthers may need to sacrifice at another position to keep the Englishman.
Until that decision is made, Lloyd will focus on kickoffs ó and watch as much of Euro 2008 as he can.
iI donít want to talk about it, because England arenít in it,î said Lloyd, lamenting his home countryís failure to qualify for the monthlong tournament that brings Europe to a halt. iI would have to pick Germany and, it hurts me to say, Portugal or Holland, at the minute.î