It looks like Darrin Simmons, the NFL's longest tenured special teams coordinator, may have his first rookie Opening Day kicker after the Bengals took Florida's Evan McPherson in Saturday's fifth round of the NFL Draft.
Simmons said he expects the junior "to start," and didn't say if he'll have the same kind of 2017 training camp competition that installed veteran Randy Bullock and put fifth-rounder Jake Elliott on the practice squad before the Eagles signed him two weeks later.
The other kicker on the roster, Austin Seibert, finished his second season kicking in the last four games of last year after they moved on from Bullock. He made all but two of his eight field-goal attempts with a long of 48 and converted all of his extra points.
"It's something we'll talk about in the coming days," Simmons said of a competition. "We haven't decided on that. I think it's a good conversation for us to have."
So it looks like McPherson becomes the Bengals' first Opening Day rookie since sixth-rounder Neil Rackers opened Paul Brown Stadium in 2000.
"Some of the biggest kicks I had at Florida, they came in the later minutes (of the game). No walk-offs," McPherson said. "Either that or at halftime to go up and carry the momentum. But I'm excited for my first walk-off, whenever that will be."
McPherson caught Simmons' eye in one of the few pro days he attended with a 21 of 22 effort where the only miss was from 58 yards. In his inimitable fashion, Simmons also put McPherson through various difficult situations in order to simulate game day distractions.
"He had an excellent pro day in front of three or four special teams coaches. We put him in some tough spots and he never blinked," Simmons said. "I tried to break his concentration and it never fazed him. Hopefully that's what we'll see on Sundays."
It was the only time the NFL could have any interaction with him, but he made good.
"Pro Day was super fun. It was my first interaction with the coaches in person," McPherson said. "I knew that day was pretty big, with the coaches seeing me kick in person. I knew I needed to make a good impression. I kicked really well. I talked to Coach Simmons and was super happy with how I performed that day."
McPherson hit 85 percent of his kicks in Gainesville during three seasons and missed just one of 150 extra-point tries. He was six of 11 from 40 yards and beyond last season, but he had four from 50 yards and beyond and made a long of 55 yards against Ole Miss in the first game of the season. He also hit two 50-plus yarders against Georgia.
"You have to remember, we're still getting a young guy here," Simmons said. "He's a junior. He has a big leg. He has a lot of positive traits to work with, one of which is that he's super competitive. He rises up in critical spots and tough spots. You want a kicker to obviously be good in clutch situations, and I think that he will show that."
According to Pro Football Talk, McPherson is the third kicker to go in the top 150 picks in the last 10 years. Simmons, who has drafted just two kickers and one punter (Kevin Huber) in his 19 drafts, says he's had the same philosophy for all of them.
"With kickers you have to take them one round higher than what you think their ability is," Simmons said. "If I believe a guy was a sixth-round talent and all 32 teams in the league believe he is a sixth-round talent,that means for us to have accessibility, you have to take him a round higher than that. There are some teams that I've identified that have a need at kicker, some of which had multiple picks in this round. We felt like we had to stay out in front of those that way, if this is the route we wanted to go to try and bring Evan on.
"You have your choice of players, one could come in and fight for a backup spot or you're talking about drafting a kicker who is potentially your starter who affects the game. Who has more value?
After losing to Bullock in the competition, Elliott went on to help the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Simmons notes in the last four years since the move there hasn't been much difference. Bullock was 85-for-100 for 85 percent and Elliott was at 82 percent on 88 of 107. He's missed nine extra points, Bullock six.
"Everyone wants to hammer the fact that we didn't keep Jake that year," Simmons said. "But even when you look at it statistically, Randy has still as well, if not better, than what Jake has over the course of the same four-year stretch. And that's not a knock on Jake. I think Jake is still going to have a great career."
That's what McPherson is looking for now.
"Words can't describe how I feel about it. It's been a dream of mine since I started kicking, and now its here. I'm fired up," McPherson said. "I won't stop training until I get that starting spot. I know there's 32 jobs in the world for what I want to do, but it's a goal of mine. To have that opportunity to compete for it, I don't think anything can stop me from getting it."