The battle for the Chiefs place-kicking job is still too close to call.
But rookie Cairo Santos may have taken the lead going into this week because of an untimely groin injury to veteran Ryan Succop.
Both kickers performed well in the Chiefs’ 41-39 victory over Cincinnati last Thursday. Succop made a 27-yard field goal and three extra points from the 33-yard distance the NFL is experimenting with for the first two preseason games; Santos made a 28-yard field goal and both of his extra-point attempts.
Succop had the edge in kickoffs, booming three out of the end zone while Santos’ kickoffs were in the area of the goal line, but the Chiefs wanted them to leave the kickoffs a little short so the coaches could evaluate players on the coverage unit.
“We’re trying to kick high hang times and just get those guys to return it,” said special-teams coordinator Dave Toub. “We wanted to test our kickoff coverage unit. (Succop) was hitting the ball so well. ...
“It’s kind of like a golf swing when you take an easy swing and the ball flies. Same thing with him. He just happened to be hitting the ball in the sweet spot, and that thing was taking off on him.”
Succop might have paid the price for his aggressiveness, because he’s missed practice on Saturday and Sunday due to groin inflammation.
Santos, the Lou Groza Award winner at Tulane in 2012, handled place-kicking duties in Saturday’s practice, making nine of 10 field goal attempts, with a long of 63 yards. The club did not work on field goals on Sunday.
Santos was pleased with his initial performance and hopes to display his kickoff ability next Sunday at Carolina.
“I thought the first game of my NFL career was everything I could ask for,” he said. “I kicked my field goals well, and I kicked off all right. They said we’ll be able to crank the kickoffs in the next game and the last two preseason games.
“The extra points are fun. It feels like a field goal. I kicked two extra points, but I feel like I kicked three field goals.”
In evaluating the kickers, the Chiefs view the 33-yard extra points as field goal attempts, and Succop and Santos made the conversions from the hash marks instead of kicking them right down the middle.
“We wanted to put them on the hashes and say, ‘This is a 33-yard field goal,’” Succop said after the game. “We were able to get some work in there. I thought both of us got in there and kicked it well. “It was great to do it in a game. It was fun to do it under the lights.”
Assuming Succop is able to kick at Carolina, the Chiefs will alternate the two kickers in that game as well.
Toub hopes to take full advantage of the 33-yard extra points for the last time in the preseason.
“I like it,” Toub said. “It puts more emphasis on the field goal kickers because everyone is watching it now. Before, no one even paid any attention to it.”
Around the league, the extra points haven’t been automatic. New Orleans missed two extra points at St. Louis.
“Obviously, there are coaches that don’t like it, and there’s players that don’t like it,” Toub said, “and I’ve heard players that like it. Whatever it is, we’ll adjust and make do. For us this year with the kicking competition, you couldn’t ask for a better situation. We’re treating each one of those like a field goal. You put the ball on the hash and you kick a 33-yard field goal every time.”
Santos is providing the first real competition Succop has faced since he joined the Chiefs as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009. Succop is tied with Pete Stoyanovich for the best career field-goal percentage in franchise history — 119 of 147 for 80.9 percent — and was 22 of 28 last year.
But that 41-yard miss that kept the Chiefs from winning the regular-season finale at San Diego last year is still in the back of the minds of club officials. And if Santos were to win the job, the club could save about $1.6 million in salary.
Succop welcomes the competition.
“It’s an opportunity for both of us to push each other,” he said. “It’s something where we can both try to get better, and that’s really all you can ask for. When you have somebody pushing you each day, you make each other better, and that’s a win-win for everybody.”