GLENDALE, Ariz. — Your move, Jay Feely.
The bar has been set, and set fairly high in the kicking competition.
Given the first chance to impress, Chandler Catanzaro did just that with a perfect performance in the Arizona Cardinals’ preseason opener, a 32-0 victory over the Houston Texans last Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
He made all three extra point attempts, each of his three field goals tries and sent every one of his seven kickoffs deep into the end zone, including a pair of touchbacks.
Not bad for his first game action in the NFL.
“It felt great. The main thing I told myself is to just enjoy the opportunity, take it all in. That’s what I did,” Catanzaro said Monday. “Couldn’t have asked for a better first game, I guess.”
Was the kid — he’s 23, fresh out of college after leaving Clemson as the school’s all-time leading scorer — nervous?
“There were a few butterflies every now and then,” he said, “but honestly I just focused on my love of competing rather than the anxiety or whatever I was feeling.”
One of 15 rookie free agents to sign with the Cardinals two days after the draft, Catanzaro hit a 32-yard field goal in the first quarter, followed by a 28-yarder in the second and a 25-yarder in the third.
However, it was his leg strength connecting with the ball off the tee that most impressed head coach Bruce Arians.
“I knew he could kick extra points and field goals. That’s a given. But he didn’t kick off in college,” Arians said. “We knew he had a strong leg. (The Texans) were trying to return them and any time you start behind the 15-yard line you know you hit a great kick.”
At Clemson, Catanzaro was never asked to kick off, a duty that belonged to punter Bradley Pinion, now a senior. That allowed Catanzaro to concentrate solely on field goals, in which he missed only one attempt in each of his final two seasons.
“Kicking off is something I could always do,” he said. “After the year was over, after the Orange Bowl, people were talking about how I couldn’t kick off and it kind of gave me an edge, a competitive edge. I took that and it made me more hungry. I went out there and worked my tail off to kick off better because I knew I could do it. God has blessed me with a strong leg. Just took that and ran with it and here I am now.”
Catanzaro is here in training camp competing against Feely, who struggled some with kickoffs, especially late in the season last year, his fourth with the Cardinals and 13th overall.
Feely — described as being “in the best shape of his life” according to Arians — will handle all kicking duties this week at Minnesota and, it sounds like, the next week against Cincinnati. Catanzaro will then kick at San Diego, the preseason finale, giving each player the chance to perform once indoors and once outdoors.
“It’s friendly,” Catanzaro said of the competition. “We kind of do our own thing. I’m really just focused on what I can control and that’s my kicking. I’m just focused on getting better every day, and I think Jay kind of takes the same mindset. But we have very, very good relationship. I have all of the respect in the world for Jay and all he’s accomplished. It’s amazing over the years what he’s done, all the clutch kicks and how many years he’s been in the league.
Despite the early success and continuing praise from Arians, Catanzaro knows he’s got a long ways to go before locking down the job as Cardinals kicker.
“There’s always room to get better,” he said. “If there’s one thing I fear it’s complacency.”