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Front Page - Friday, September 1, 2023

Desperate quest for kicker could bite Titans

The Tennessee Titans will rely on Nick Folk for their placekicking duties this season after the veteran was acquired Tuesday from the Patriots for a seventh-round, 2025 draft pick. - Photo by Winslow Townson | AP

And so the kicking carousel spins again. No one seems to know when it will end.

That little rhyme is a reminder that the Tennessee Titans yet again find themselves in dire straits as they try to find someone, anyone, who can solidify the kicker spot.

When the Titans decided to release Michael Badgley after he missed a 39-yard field goal in the preseason finale against New England, it temporarily left the Titans with no kicker headed into cutdown day.

Tuesday, the Titans traded for 38-year-old Nick Folk, sending a seventh-round pick in 2025 to New England for another temporary fix, not waiting till the 3 p.m. CDT deadline to see if Folk would hit the open market.

For a team that went years with capable kickers who could kick clutch field goals, the whole situation is getting a bit ridiculous. Badgley was the third kicker the Titans have tried this preseason, having already jettisoned Caleb Shudak and Trey Wolff to hand the job to Badgley. Now, Folk, who has been in the NFL since 2007 with four different teams, takes his turn.

Whenever anyone asks head coach Mike Vrabel about the Titans’ kicker situation, his reply usually includes something along the lines of, “We’ve got to find someone who can make them.”

But that has been much easier said than done throughout his now five seasons at the helm in Tennessee.

This is a team that still wants to rely on defense and the run game, so a clutch 50-yard field goal here or there could make the difference in determining close games.

When Vrabel took over as Tennessee head coach in 2018, the Titans had one of the most stable kicking situations in the NFL. Ryan Succop was in the midst of setting an NFL record with 56 straight field goals made inside 50 yards.

But when Succop tweaked his knee and required surgery in training camp in 2019, the kicking wheel began to spin and hasn’t stopped since. Succop started that year on injured reserve, and the Titans went through Cairo Santos and Cody Parkey before Succop was rushed back.

Succop went 1-for-6,  was shut down and released after the season, only to go to Tampa Bay and win a Super Bowl.

The Titans brought in a supposed kickoff specialist in Ryan Santoso, whose kickoffs didn’t reach the end zone, before finally settling on Greg Joseph.

The most astounding part of kicking game upheaval was that the rotating cast never really cost the Titans a game, and they made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game that year.

The next year, the Titans thought they had solved the issue by bringing in reliable veteran Stephen Gostkowski, who had been Vrabel’s teammate in New England. But Gostskowski proved to be running on fumes, nearly costing the Titans their season opener in Denver with his struggles.

Gostkowski was injured late that year, and the Titans picked up Sam Sloman, who made his only field goal try of the year in the season finale at Houston – one that gave the Titans the AFC South title.

Gostkowski retired, and Sloman didn’t return, so in 2021 the Titans decided to go young, giving Tucker McCann and Blake Haubeil the chance to win the job in camp. And much like the Shudak-Wolff supposed competition this year, it simply didn’t work.

So the Titans claimed Sam Ficken off waivers from the Jets, and he clearly did enough to win the job. Except he suffered an injury right before the season began and went on injured reserve. He hasn’t kicked in an NFL game since.

With Ficken out, the Titans brought in Badgley for his first go-round – one that ended badly as he missed a field goal and an extra point in the season opener that year and was shown the door the next day.

Enter Randy Bullock, who despite a lack of range past about 47 yards, managed to hold the job throughout the past two years.

But again, it backfired in training camp, and after Badgley’s second flop, here the Titans are again hoping Folk can fill the void until someone can claim the job on a long-term basis.

Folk figures to solve the issue for now as he made 32 of 37 field goal tries a year ago for the Pats. But he lost out to a younger, stronger leg in Chad Ryland in New England.

At his age, he figures to hold down the job this year, sort of like Bullock did in 2021 and ‘22. But given the circumstances, the kicker carousel figures to spin again sooner or later under Vrabel.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com