Since entering the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick in 2015, New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona has worked with only one kicker. On Wednesday, the team placed that kicker on injured reserve: Stephen Gostkowski had hurt his hip and would need season-ending injury, forcing the team to make the move and start looking for a replacement. The search ended on Thursday, when the Patriots announced signing free agent Mike Nugent.
Nugent comes to New England with 169 career games on his résumé, but he still needs to get up to speed quickly especially when it comes to working with Cardona and rookie punter/potential kickoff specialist Jake Bailey. The long snapper, who himself has played in a combined 79 regular season and playoff games alongside Gostkowski, pointed this out during a short media availability session on Thursday.
“Myself and Jake have been working with Stephen exclusively, so now that we have a new piece in it’s about him getting used to us, us getting used to him. It’s not rocket science, it’s just about getting repetition and being ready to go out there and perform,” he said when asked about the transition from one kicker to another. “Right now it’s just about building chemistry and building it fast so that we are ready for Sunday.”
“Mike’s a complete professional, played in this league a long time, obviously made a lot of great kicks,” added Cardona before pointing out that experience should help, but is no substitute for the work that needs to be put in. “It’s a tremendous help to bring in a veteran, but ultimately we’re starting at ground zero as far as building that chemistry together and him developing into his role on the team. That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Nugent, who has not spoken with reporters since his arrival, is no stranger to this process. The 15-year-veteran, who started his career as a second-round pick by the New York Jets, is now on his ninth team since entering the league in 2005. But despite his experience and success over the years, the shoes he will have to fill are substantial: Gostkowski has been a mostly reliable kicker since 2006 despite some recents ups and downs.
“It’s really unfortunate,” said Cardona about losing the 35-year-old, who was successful on 18 of his 23 place kick attempts so far this season (78.3%), to injured reserve. “Steve’s a leader on this team, someone who’s obviously been great for a long time and made a lot of incredible kicks. We’re going to miss having him around, but he needs to get his body right and get ready to help us in the future.”