The most prolific rookie kicker in the history of the NFL is looking to keep his job heading into his second season.
You would think Evan McPherson is feeling pretty secure these days, After all, so much has changed since he outdueled Austin Seibert:
_Combining the regular season and postseason, McPherson's 12 field goals of 50 yards in a single year is an NFL record.
_He's the first kicker in NFL history to have multiple four field-goal games in a postseason.
_His 14-for-14 radar in the postseason is the most without a miss and tied Adam Vinatieri's record for most field goals in a single postseason.
And yet …
"You always have to be performing at your best because they can bring in somebody tomorrow," McPherson said this week during voluntaries.
Even to replace a guy that was 14-for-14 in the playoffs?
"They could," he said. "You never know."
When they took McPherson in the fifth round last year, they didn't tell him he had the job. They kept the vet Seibert around to kick against him in training camp.
"They never said I was the guy," McPherson said. "It was always, 'You have to compete for it,' and I feel like I probably needed that a little bit. Just to make sure I was kind of dialed in and just competing every day, trying to get the best out of me. Honestly, I think that's why they never really said I was the guy."
So even after his pro day and spring practices, he kept kicking to stay sharp for the competition. After last June's voluntaries and before the start of training camp in late July, McPherson figured he kicked three, maybe four times a week.
No more now.
The big leg needed big rest after more than a year of steady, record-breaking work. Now he says he kicks twice, maybe once a week. After last season's final kick (a touchback following his 38-yard field goal that gave the Bengals a 20-13 lead with 10:15 left in the third quarter of the Super Bowl), McPherson didn't kick again for about two months.
"I feel good. You'd have to say refreshed," McPherson said. "It doesn't change much right now. I'm just trying to take care of my body a little more."
How do you retain the edge? When you end practice with a 52-yard try saying, 'OK, this is to go to the AFC title game,' what do you do when the guy's already done that?
Now with Seibert the answer to Bengals trivia, McPherson is looking elsewhere for that edge.
"The guys on the other teams," McPherson said. "From the aspect, if you don't perform well, they'll bring in somebody to out-perform you."
YOUNG VET: Former long-time Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle, who also served as a defensive analyst for the Joe Burrow-Ja'Marr Chase national champions at LSU, visited practice this week and saw a lot of familiar faces.
And here's why one of them has a chance to be the oldest player on offense, defense and maybe the whole team when the dust settles at the end of August. Coyle watched 32-year-old safety Michael Thomas do a few drills and observed, "He's running around out there like he did when he was 23."
And Coyle should know because he coached Thomas when he was 23. Coyle was the defensive coordinator of the Dolphins and Thomas had been in Miami for something like four days when he made his NFL debut on Dec. 15, 2013 against the Tom Brady Patriots.
Thomas, an undrafted free agent of the 49ers the year before, had been on the San Francisco practice squad for two years when Miami plucked him on a Monday and suddenly Thomas was pressed into service that Sunday as Dolphins cornerbacks started dropping like flies.
Coyle's secondary coach was Lou Anarumo, the Bengals current defensive coordinator, and at some point Thomas remembers Anarumo turning to him on the sidelines and saying, "Hey, 31, you played a little slot in college, right? You're in."
He was able to do that because Coyle had told secondary assistant Blue Adams, the former University of Cincinnati and Bengals DB, to spend extra time with him after practice to go over the defense. On his 16th and final snap of the day with the Patriots on the Miami 14 and Miami clinging to a 24-20 lead with seven seconds left, Thomas heard safety Chris Clemons tell him that if the slot receiver went inside, he, Clemons would take him and Thomas should drop.
"I can't remember if it was (Julian) Edelman or (Danny) Amendola, but he went inside and I was dropping back and it was like it was happening in slow motion," Thomas recalled this week. "Brady threw the ball right at me and I'm thinking, 'Are you kidding me? This is going to be my first NFL interception?' Every time I see Coach Coyle, it's a great memory."
Coyle still fondly recalls Thomas lying in the end zone and his teammates pummeling while he cradled the ball yelling, "Mommy! Mommy!" What was true then is true now. A smart, undrafted guy from Stanford has found a way to stay in the league for 104 games after that first one.
He ended up in Cincinnati last year much like he did in Miami all those years ago. The Bengals signed him to the practice squad in October and when Ricardo Allen came up lame after Brandon Wilson tore his ACL, they activated him the next month after the bye week. And the textbook savvy vet was just what they needed on special teams as punter Kevin Huber's personal protector the rest of the way.
Now Allen is an assistant coach in, of all places, Miami. But Wilson is rehabbing the ACL and they drafted two safeties and they only keep four safeties, right? So what else is new for the always smiling, upbeat Thomas?
"That's the NFL. I'm going into year 11 and that's the case every year for me," Thomas said. "They're always drafting somebody or signing somebody in free agency. I love it. That's the business. They're preparing for the future."
Thomas is a happy mentor to the two drafted safeties, first-rounder Dax Hill and fifth-rounder Tycen Anderson: "They ask all the right questions."
On Hill: "He's got all the tools, all the tangibles. He wants to learn, he wants to be better. And if you've got that kind of mindset, that's the thing for success. He's got the skills, but that mindset, the Bengals did a good job bringing him in."
On Anderson: "I think he'll be something. To see him light up and talk about kickoff return on the frontline, 'I'm a beast. I want show my college film,' asking me questions as a (personal protector), before practice, staying after practice with me."
Thomas knows people might question his sanity on helping a rookie take the job he had in the last Super Bowl, but he doesn't see it like that.
"Let me show you what it's like to play this position in the NFL at the highest level. I love that," Thomas said. "But if they're good enough and better than me, I can't control that. But I'm going to give them as much as I can."
TIGHT TRANSITION: When the Bengals cut wide receiver Scotty Washington at the end of the last training camp, he decided it was time to put on the extra weight and become a tight end. When he was working out on the West Coast in the offseason of 2021, Washington had actually mentioned that in a joking manner to one of the guys running the workouts, former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"He thought it was a good idea because he saw I had the frame to get bigger," Washington recalled this week.
So after Washington got cut, he began the switch. Late last season he sent a video to the same Bengals scouting department that had signed him as an undrafted free agent wide receiver out of Wake Forest in 2020. The scouts saw he had put on about 30 pounds on and was still moving well, so they signed him to the practice squad as a tight end in week 17 and the experiment continues.
"I was about 215 to 220 (pounds) when I got cut and I'd say now I'm somewhere around 245 to 250," Washington said this week. "Really, I didn't do much differently. I just ate more consistently. I think the metabolism slows down when you reach 25. I don't feel like I lost any speed."
Washington made the move after a camp he was part of arguably the best corps of receivers in the league. It made his point.
"The league is so receiver dominant. There are stacked rooms around the league … We've got a bunch of studs," Washington said. "I thought it would be a good challenge for me."
The tight ends room is still pretty formidable. Hayden Hurst is a free agent brought in to replace starter C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample and Mitch Wilcox return as veterans of the offense who played all last season.
"I'm just going day-by-day," Washington said. "There are so many layers to the position, the thing I'm working on is learning the little nuances. Go full speed and if I make a mistake, correct it later."