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.
“I know the lay of the land,” Sharp said. “It's pretty similar to college. You compete for your job every day. Right now me and Mike are competing. There are only so many opportunities in a game. Hopefully I can capitalize on all those and see where it takes me.”
Sharp was an All-American punter his sophomore season at OSU, an All-American kicker his junior and senior seasons. He averaged more than 46 yards a punt in his college career, but in the NFL, one player never handles all three kicking roles — punter, kicker and kickoffs.
“They're letting me do all three in preseason,” Sharp said. “The punting part is to give Kevin Huber a little relief from having to take every rep. He signed a five-year deal. But doing all three gives me a little more exposure that could help me if I don't make it here.”
Booming kickoffs and punting experience are pluses. In addition to being a team's emergency punter, 70 percent of Sharp's college kickoffs resulted in touchbacks (220 times he put the defense in good position without risking a lengthy return).
Brown owned one of the precious 32 kicking jobs for nine seasons with the Seahawks and Rams. This year he has no competition with the Giants. So he knows the life of an NFL kicker as well as anybody, and can offer Sharp some advice.
“When (Sharp) gets a chance in preseason, he needs to hit his kicks just like he's done his whole career,” Brown said. “Games are very important, but every day in practice is like a game for kickers. Until they make a decision, it's anyone's job.”
A popular player at OSU, Sharp still has his long locks.
“I've looked into some foundations,” Sharp said. “I'll probably end up donating it to Wigs for Kids or Locks of Love. There are certain techniques they use to cut it. It has to be at least 12 inches to donate. I'm pretty close.”
Sharp said he'll chase the NFL dream for at least two years but wouldn't hesitate to enter private business, possibly running a clothing store with his mother if he fails to grab an NFL job.
“You have to keep believing in yourself and if you get the opportunity, capitalize on it,” Sharp said. “If I win the job, I win the job. I just need to have some good preseason games, show teams all the teams around the league I can be accurate.”