Quinn Sharp was a jack-of-all-trades punter/kicker at Oklahoma State who will be difficult to replace. In the NFL, Sharp will concentrate on kicking.
NFL kickers are an exclusive fraternity. Only 32 jobs are available. Many NFL coaches, including the Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis, have a track record for relying on veteran kickers with game-on-the-line experience.
“That's why it's hard to crack into the league right away,” Sharp said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman.
As an undrafted free agent, Sharp could have signed with any team, but Cincinnati was the only team to make a firm commitment.
“Teams found out I had a torn MCL at the NFL Combine that I didn't know I had,” Sharp said. “A lot of people were worried about that. But I've made it through fine. After the season, I'll probably have surgery, but I'm fine.”
In the Bengals' preseason opener Thursday night against Atlanta, Sharp nailed a 47-yarder, his only field-goal attempt.
Sharp, who routinely has made 50-yarders in offseason workouts, is competing against 31-year-old veteran Mike Nugent, who signed a two-year deal with the Bengals.
Nugent has converted 81.1 percent of his attempts in eight seasons with the Jets, Cardinals, Buccaneers and Bengals. The Ohio State product has converted 83.8 percent the past three seasons in Cincinnati.
But Sharp also has a track record on the college level. Sharp converted 88 percent of his field goals (22-of-25) his junior year, 84 percent (28-of-34) as a senior.
Nugent's two-year deal gives him a leg up. But it's not a slam dunk Nugent keeps the job. He was the Bengals' franchise player a year ago, but he has been injury-prone.
After Nugent suffered a calf injury in December, the Bengals signed Josh Brown, now with the Giants. Brown, who is from Foyil, was Cincinnati's kicker during a playoff run. Nugent played in all 16 games two years ago but was limited to only nine games in 2010 with the Bengals.
“He's a great guy who has helped show me the ropes, which I really appreciate,” Sharp said. “He's had an accurate career. He's had some injuries here and there, but he's had a great career.”
In a handful of organizations, young kickers have an edge because of salary-cap ramifications.
The NFL rookie minimum this season is $405,000. Nugent is signed for $1.6 million this season, $1.9 million next year. The Bengals reportedly invested only $250,000 toward the cap if they cut Nugent.