It might get loud: That noise you hear is Santos pushing Succop at Chiefs camp
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — BOOM!
Cairo Santos turns heads. No. Wait.
He wounds ears. It’s a brontosaurus in a tutu, dancing through the tulips. No. Hang on.
It’s like Thor taking that giant hammer of his and playing table tennis with your head. Yeah. That’s it.
"With no wind, or indoors, (the range is) 60," Santos, the rookie kicker who’s been one of the talking points of Kansas City Chiefs training camp, recently told reporters. "If I have the wind to my back, I think 65. I can go into the wind around 50. So, it’s all about staying fresh for game day and you can hit those long ones."
Kickers do not reach the radar of cynical scribes in the spring and summer, especially when there’s an established veteran — Ryan Succop — on hand, especially when the competition is perceived to be more ceremonial than substantive.
But then we heard the sound. That booming, wacky, Thor/table tennis sound, again and again.
If Dustin Colquitt can bring rain, Cairo Santos brings thunder.
"I’ve said this before, I think he’s an NFL-caliber kicker," said special teams coordinator Dave Toub, the recipient of outright trust — if not love — from Chiefs fans after his renovation job of the last 15 months. "I think he’s going to be in the NFL, whether it’s on our team or on another team. The competition is real and we’re excited about Cairo and what he’s able to bring."
What’s even more remarkable is that it’s brought from a cat who checks in at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds and change, soaking wet. The Brazilian’s right leg is the football equivalent of one of those Bose-brand Bluetooth speakers, a lollipop that swings like a bloody sledgehammer.
"I think because I’m not a big guy, and strong like the other NFL kickers, that I rely on technique and consistency," said Santos, the 2012 Lou Groza Award winner in his junior season at Tulane. "I have short steps that give me that consistency and follow-through, so I just rely on my consistency."
The sound of the ball off Santos’ foot got everybody’s attention in May. The fact he’s still bringing it has kept this subplot bubbling into preseason training camp. Succop, 27, clearly has a fight on his hands, even if the fight is only for another few weeks. Santos has been impressive enough in practices and head-to-head competition that those same cynical scribes have started to notice Succop’s price tag, especially with the Justin Houston and Alex Smith contract sagas ongoing.
According to OverTheCap.com, Succop is working with a $2.708 million cap number this fall and a $3.508 million number in 2015. If the Chiefs cut him, they project to increase their 2014 cap cushion from $5.696 million to $6.18 million — but the real savings would be next fall, lifting their ’15 cap room from $12.916 million to $16.425 million.
Not that any of this is necessarily Succop’s fault — he’s made good on 81 percent of his field-goal tries since 2009 and, over the last three seasons, the Chiefs’ incumbent kicker is a solid 6 for 10 on shots from 50 yards out or greater.
But Succop was also just 1 for 4 from that distance last year. And while OverTheCap.com lists him as the 12th-highest-paid kicker in the NFL, ProFootballFocus.com ranked him 18th among NFL starting kickers in 2011, 28th in 2012 and 19th last season — an average placement of 22nd.
PFF.com ranked the former Gamecock No. 19 among qualified kickers in terms of kickoff effectiveness in 2011, No. 29 in 2012 and No. 15 in 2013. Again: Solid. Not elite.
Throwing Santos into the mix thickens the plot. And the pot. With Thor’s hammer doing the dirty work, Tulane led all Football Bowl Subdivision schools last fall in touchback percentage on kickoffs (75.81) and ranked 12th nationally in 2012 (55.36). In 2013, only two of Santos’ kickoffs failed to reach the end zone.
As a junior, Santos became just the second kicker in modern FBS history to take 20 or more attempts and make all 20 — he was 21 for 21, including a 57-yarder and a 54-yarder.
Granted, the Green Wave played their home tilts at the kicker-friendly Superdome, which brings up the usual caveats and questions. Namely:
Can he kick outdoors? Of Tulane’s 29 kickoffs at road/neutral sites last fall, a whopping 86.21 percent went for touchbacks.
Can he kick in crappy weather? Of the Green Wave’s 21 kicks on Nov. 1, 2013, or later, 17 — 80.9 percent of them — were touchbacks, including three of four after Nov. 30.
"Whether it’s here or somewhere else, he looks like he has a leg to be an NFL kicker," coach Andy Reid said last month, sharing Toub’s caveat. "We’ll see."
Accuracy is the trick, the question, the great unknown. Away from the dome, Santos connected on just 6 of 11 field goals last fall. He was 9 for 9 in 2012, 5 for 8 in 2011 and 5 for 7 in 2010. Career road/neutral conversion rate: 25 for 35, or 71.4 percent.
Point of comparison: Succop’s rate at South Carolina from 2005-08 was 21 for 35, or 60 percent.
"The biggest thing for me is to impress this coaching staff," Santos said. "If I can’t get a job here, I trust that they’ll put in a word to another team for me. I know that coach Toub is very well respected in the NFL, so I’m thankful to be kicking in front of this staff. And I know whatever happens, they’ll be willing to help me out."
Whatever happens, the last three months should wind up turning into something good for Santos, somewhere. Even it’s only a friendly push, chances are it’ll lead to something good for Succop, too. And either way, something even better for the Chiefs. Something loud.