DAVIE, Fla. — It would have been easy for Caleb Sturgis to feel like a fan before Friday’s game at EverBank Field.
Sturgis cheered for the Jacksonville Jaguars while growing up just down the road in St. Augustine. And there he was on the field before a game involving the Jaguars.
“It was pretty neat. I was able to catch most of their games as a kid. Absolutely,” Sturgis said of being a fan. “I looked up to (Jacksonville kicker Josh) Scobee a lot growing up. … I got to go say hi to him before the game.”
Soon, though, it was all business for the rookie kicker. Sturgis, a fifth-round draft choice from Florida, made his NFL debut for the Miami Dolphins in their 27-3 preseason win over the Jaguars.
What debut it was. On his 24th birthday, Sturgis made both of his field-goal attempts, one a 58-yarder, and hit all three of his extra points. Had it been a regular-season game, Strugis’ booming field goal would have been tied for the third-longest in team history.
“It went well out there,” said Sturgis, who, while family members were Jaguars’ fans, said his younger brother Michael, 21, actually grew up a Dolphins fan. “That was really neat to start off like that.”
Strugis, speaking Sunday to FOX Sports Florida, said his phone has blown up in the past few days with calls and texts from well-wishers. It wouldn’t be surprising if it blows up again around Aug. 31.
That’s the day for NFL final cuts. It sure looks as if Sturgis is going to make the team by beating out Dan Carpenter, a five-year veteran.
Carpenter has had his struggles from long range. He missed a pair of 49 yarders in a scrimmage two weeks ago at Sun Life Stadium, although he did make one from 45 yards in Miami’s first preseason game, a 24-20 loss to Dallas on Aug. 4.
Carpenter is by today’s high standards simply an average NFL kicker. Making that quite evident is, of the active kickers in the league, he ranks 16th in career field-goal percentage at 81.9. There are 32 teams in the league.
Average isn’t going to cut it considering Carpenter is due to make $2.7 million this season while Sturgis is in line to earn $441,000. In fact, Sturgis’ entire four-year contract of $2.3 million is $400,000 less than what Carpenter would make this season.
If the two are equal at the end of the preseason, Sturgis will get the nod because of money. But it’s doubtful it even will be a dead heat.
Sturgis, with his booming leg, is better on both long kicks and kickoffs. And there are no early indications he will be bothered by pressure.
There was pressure on Sturgis as he made his debut just up the road from his home and also near where he had played in college. But he shook it off.
“It’s human nature that any time something’s different, you can be a little nervous,” said Sturgis, whose other field goal was from 38 yards. “But once I stepped out there, it felt like the same human nature, kicking.”
Pressure didn’t get much to Sturgis at Florida, where he first got a chance to meet Scobee when he worked out with him before his senior season. Sturgis made 70 of his 88 career attempts (79.5 percent), including 24 of 28 (85.7 percent) last year.
Strugis’ longest kick in college was 56 yards. So he’s already topped that with the booming third-quarter kick that would have been good from several more yards out.
“I thought he kicked well,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I thought he acted professionally. He had a good warm-up. I thought he went on the field and did his job well. Acted like a pro. Wasn’t too high or too low.”
Philbin isn’t tipping his hand when it comes to the battle at kicker. He wouldn’t even say Sunday who will kick Saturday at Houston after Carpenter got the honors in the first preseason game and Sturgis in the second one.
But it’s not hard to predict the exit soon of Carpenter, 27, who has made 79.4 percent of his kicks the past three seasons after hitting 86.8 percent his first two years. One of Carpenter’s lowest moment came in a 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets in Week 3 last year, when he missed a 47-yarder late in regulation and a 48-yarder in overtime, either one that would have won the game.
The Dolphins wouldn’t have used a fifth-round pick on a kicker if they didn’t want to replace Carpenter. And any kicker drafted in that position really would have to mess up in order to be cut.
Sturgis sure didn’t mess up in his debut.
“Obviously, with my competitive nature, I want to make the team,” Sturgis said.
Count on Sturgis making it. Then the entire Sturgis family can join brother Michael in being Dolphins fans.