TAMPA — Cairo Santos has made his share of pressure kicks in his career. But he rarely has been mobbed by nearly 90 teammates the way he was following an attempt near midfield Thursday. The bonus for making the kick was that the final mandatory minicamp practice would end an hour early, signalling the end of the off-season.
"Nobody is happier to see that field goal go through than me,'' coach Bruce Arians said.
Santos connected on 9-of-12 field goals in eight games last season after replacing Chandler Catanzaro. That earned him a 1-year, 1-million contract to remain in Tampa Bay. But Santos is battling for the position with rookie Matt Gay, a fifth-round pick from Utah.
"A lot of times we’re in our own world, our own competition here with the kickers,'' Santos said. "We do our own thing and these guys are putting in the work blocking and running and learning all the new schemes and stuff. But we don’t get a lot of encounters with the rest of the team because it’s still a long practice. But to finish with that and get hugged by teammates and feel the energy, we’re all here to get better so I think these little moments mean a lot to us. To get the support from the team when you make a pressure kick like that.''
It’s hard to simulate game pressure for place-kickers, but they often work different situational drills.
"That one kick probably means more than any of the ones we’ve made this off-season,'' Santos said.
Santos hasn’t always had a competition in training camp during his career. He was unopposed in Kansas City. But he embraces the battle with Gay.
"Number one, the competition is always against myself,'' Santos said. "But having Matt here, he’s a tremendous, powerful kicker and I think he rejuvenates that competitive spirit. For three off-seasons, I was the only guy in Kansas City. Last year, I competed a little bit. I went to many tryouts and it was great to be in those environments to get ready for the season.''