Life is tough as a Kicker, we’ve all seen kickers be crucial to their team and cut the second they lose form. They are critical to a team’s success and yet there isn’t space for a backup on the team so the second you start missing, you’re out the door.
One man with a unique preparation for the world of NFL kicking is Jaguars’ Josh Lambo, having played goalkeeper in American lower leagues prior to playing in the NFL. The similarities between the two positions aren’t lost on Lambo, “my time as a goalkeeper prepared me to be a kicker”. The Jags player added that while some positions can take one out of five chances and be a hero, the same success rate for Kickers and Goalkeepers will see you unemployed very quickly. All this gives Josh Lambo a lot of experience in dealing with pressure and it has led to him having the mentality of “go one for one”.
The mentality and ability to deal with pressure has worked well for Lambo, after two ok seasons in San Diego, the Kicker moved to Jacksonville and made 95% of his kicks in 2017 and 90% last year. He pins his success on one thing: preparation. He lives by his college coach Kevin Sumlin’s advice: “nervousness is for the unprepared”. Communication with the team about what distance he is comfortable with in specific situations and conditions is vital to the process, according to Lambo. He stays focused on the sideline so he always has the right preparation for a kick and works hard outside of the games, looking at the analytics of conditions specific to the stadium, whether conditions change on the ground compared to in the air, his technique and where he needs to aim based on the distance and the hash mark the team is on, as well as getting advice from other kickers around the league.
That’s right, there’s a Kicking community, despite the amount of positional churn around the league. Lambo says he values relationships with other Kickers, both for information and support. Lambo messages Kickers who have had a great game to congratulate them and reaches out to those that are struggling to tell them to keep their chin up. “The kicking community is quite tight, I’m friends with most of the kickers in the league if I’ve met them”, and he particularly values his relationship with Saints’ Will Lutz, saying that when they both signed long term deals this offseason, Lutz texted him saying “We made it!”, highlighting their friendship.
It’s understandable that Kickers are friends among themselves, especially with the separation between themselves and the rest of the team “which can be a little bit difficult”. While offences and defences are together for much of the season, special teams tend to be kept to themselves in practice. That’s why the offseason is so important, according to Lambo, as an opportunity to build relationships while he’s doing the same drills and in the weight room with everyone. And while there is the separation, the Texas A&M alum knows it’s a team effort to convert a pressure kick, he has to rely on the blockers, Long Snapper and Holder to do their job, so he can to his.
Even with a long term contract signed, Lambo isn’t resting on his laurels. While it is a sign of trust from the team, “you’re still always looking over your shoulder. Even if there isn’t a Kicker right in front of you that you’re competing with, there’s 31 other guys that if they get cut they want your job.”
So how can you prepare yourself for a pressure kick? The Jaguars man says that, regardless of situation, the fundamentals don’t change, the process is exactly the same as a kick in practice, so Lambo knows that if he prepares right, he’ll make the kick nearly every time. As for artificially simulating the pressure in practice, as some teams have done, ending OTAs early if the Kicker can put it through the uprights, Lambo says that changes the score a little. “Then you do feel pressure! There’s loads of pressure with that. They [Doug Marrone & Tom Coughlin] actually did it this year at the end of OTAs they said, ‘alright if Josh makes a field goal then no fitness.’ We did that, we made it and got to go home early.” It seems as though it is about as effective a way to put the Kicker in the situation for a clutch kick, even if you can only use the trick a couple of times a year.
With Josh Lambo continuing to develop and improve, the Jaguars have a special teamer that they can rely on. Now the Jags need to get back to the fundamentals they relied on in 2017 to compete at the sharp end with four contenders in the AFC South.
Photo: George Somerville / Ninetynineyards.com