“Not only are they working well out here everyday together but they’re real close friends off the field, them and (long snapper)
Carpenter established himself as one of the league’s most reliable kickers early on and has kicked three of the five longest field goals in franchise history. He earned a Pro Bowl berth after his second season in 2009, during which his streak of 17 consecutive field goals ranked second behind only Olindo Mare’s 19 back in 1999.
Last year, Fields had a Pro Bowl-caliber season with a gross average of 48.8 yards per punt (second in the AFC and third in the NFL). He also landed 32 punts inside the 20 and his career average of 45.7 yards is the best in franchise history, leading to his being rewarded with a four-year contract extension earlier this month.
“It feels great knowing that I’m going to be under contract for the next five years and hopefully I’m here for those five years and even longer,” Fields said. “Just knowing that stability of being with the same team, the same group and the same coaches with both Darren Rizzi and Dave Fipp, is awesome. Everybody knows exactly what their job is and what they need to get done and they go out and do it. It’s more about what you prove and what you do when you’re here than where you came from with this organization and this proves that.”
Even though this is a new coaching staff for the most part and Philbin set out to create competition at every position, he knew what he had in Carpenter, Fields and Denney. So no other kickers or punters were brought in via free agency or the draft.
“I like both those guys; all our specialists. I’m really pleased with their work ethic. They’re dedicated and are true professionals,” Philbin said, “You know, Brandon, it’s kind of like, not to minimize the value of recognizing talent, but it’s kind of like watching Sandy Koufax or Roger Clemens throw a fastball. I mean when the ball just comes off the guy’s leg it’s like ‘wow.’ This guy’s got some pop and some natural ability in that leg of his. So I think he has had an excellent camp, and Dan has worked very hard.”
Denney is the longest-tenured Dolphin on the team, as he is entering his eighth season. Carpenter is the third kicker he has worked with and Fields is the second punter and Carpenter is the second kicker that Fields has held for, so for those two it has been a luxury having Carpenter stick with the team.
The fact that, as Carpenter puts it, the three spend more time with each other than they do with their wives only adds to the strength of their chemistry. They know each other’s tendencies so well that the rare instances of Denney firing a snap off target hardly register a blip because Fields still knows where the ball is going to end up. Carpenter also knows how it’s going to affect the hold and he credits that to how things got started for him as a rookie.
“When I first got here obviously Brandon had been here for a year and he’d gotten used to another guy, so I’m the new guy and they had the chemistry before,” said Carpenter, who was given his own three-year contract extension back in the summer of 2010. “It was a little bit of a process, but Brandon and John, I couldn’t ask for two better guys to have to hang out with all the time and it works really great that we have become close friends. It makes our situation on the team just that much easier and we want each other to do well and to hang around.”
Despite the fact there is nobody competing against them for a roster spot, Carpenter and Fields won’t allow themselves to get complacent. Being a late-round draft pick or going undrafted plays into that equation, and Rizzi extols those virtues when talking about them.
Compliments from their position coach are expected, but Carpenter and Fields have earned the respect of their teammates as well by delivering under pressure in actual games. Carpenter has twice gone 5-for-5 on field goals and has four game-winning kicks in regulation or overtime, while Fields has dramatically altered field position with his booming punts as well as the high ones he so deftly lands inside the 20.
“I think the guys that have been around here have seen Dan and Brandon do their thing and whether it’s Brandon punting the ball 60 yards or Dan kicking a 60-yard field goal, they take notice,” Rizzi said. “Once you get in the heat of the battle like those guys have done and gone on and been successful, people start to realize their true value to the overall team.”
Six seasons ago, Fields became the first rookie to handle the punting duties on a full-time basis since Reggie Roby back in 1983 and he led all four rookie NFL punters with a 43.2 gross average. Those were solid numbers; with the only one that bothered him being the 10 he landed inside of the 20 out of his 77 punts.
Field’s statistics steadily improved each year since 2007, especially in the latter category as he tripled that number the last two years, but he continues to set the bar high for himself.
“I think I’ve grown leaps and bounds just from a mental standpoint as I’ve gotten over the jitters of the first few years,” Fields said. “Now I know exactly what I have to do in situations and I go out and do it. I know what the guys in front of me are going to do and I can make the ball do what I want to do, so basically I have all the clubs in the bag so to speak. I still continue to work on all of the different kicks a lot and I have to work together with the punt team so that we’re all on the same page and in the right position.”
Carpenter also understands how fragile a position the kicker and punter are in because their mistakes are magnified by the situation. One missed field goal can decide the outcome of the game, just like one blocked punt or long return because of the trajectory can.
“l just try to stay on top of my game and stay as sharp as I can because I know any day it can end,” Carpenter said.